Dylan Carlson - Conquistador

by Andy Brown Rating:8 Release Date:2018-04-27
Dylan Carlson - Conquistador
Dylan Carlson - Conquistador

Back in 1993 Dylan Carlson released the game-changing Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Edition. A sprawling monument to minimalism and what came to be known as drone-metal. The album featured bass and a little percussion yet was primarily defined by Carlson’s droning, purposefully repetitive approach to playing the guitar. A heavy and, at times, overpowering sound. The album’s uncompromising approach and stylistic starkness went on to inspire the likes of Sunn0))).

Carlson’s sound continued to develop and evolve, taking in a number of different influences. The twang of country and the widescreen sensibilities of Ennio Morricone seeping into the band’s sound on 2005 comeback album Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method. Taking in eight Earth albums and a number of solo releases and collaborations, it’s one of the most genuinely interesting journeys in modern, experimental music. That sense of his work being part of a journey or quest has been something Carlson himself has mentioned in the press for upcoming solo LP Conquistador.

A striking image of Carlson’s wife Holly, bathed in sunlight, adorns the cover. An inspiration for much of his work, the image ties Conquistador to Carlson’s own journey while also chiming perfectly with the bright, meditative music held within. Much like Hex and The Bees Made Honey in the Lions Skull, the album explores slow, hypnotic tones and textures through Carlson’s ever-distinctive guitar playing. While perhaps not immediately accessible to all, we’re certainly some way away from the more doom-laden offspring that came in the wake of Earth 2.

Carlson has described the album as “another imaginary western” yet one based on the real story of a “conquistador and his Moorish servant” and the “many adventures” they had. It certainly works if you close your eyes and imagine some 1970’s psychedelic Western playing out as the thirteen-minute sprawl of the title track creaks into view. Yet ultimately Carlson’s music, wordless and untethered by any kind of traditional structure will bring up all kinds of images. As always Dylan Carlson provides us with an album to immerse ourselves in.

Carlson isn’t completely on his own, his wife providing subtle and atmospheric percussion while guitarist and singer/songwriter Emma Ruth Rundle plays baritone and slide guitar. The biggest difference between this and Earth being the absence of Adrienne Davies and her colossal presence behind the drumkit. Whereas Primitive and Deadly found Earth embracing all things rock, Conquistador is a much more stripped-back, improvisational work. The occasional rattle of chains and the crash of a cymbal adding to the albums stark yet oddly beautiful soundscapes.

It’s just over 30 minutes and 5 tracks long yet Conquistador is an album that unfolds slowly. From the almost soothing, going-out-west slide guitar and bright, revelatory tones of the title track to the dramatic, heavily distorted riff of ‘Scorpions in their Mouths’ and the hypnotic washes of sound that make up the closing ‘Reaching the Gulf’. Instrumental music has the power to tell a story without saying a single word, the album bursting with all the dust and drama of Carlson’s beloved Cormac McCarthy.

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