Dylan Carlson


The man from Earth ushers gentle tides and ferocious cataclysms

Soft waves lap beneath rotting wooden foundations and we hear the would-be conqueror’s final deranged thoughts: “I, the Wrath of God, will marry my own daughter and with her I will found the purest dynasty the Earth has ever seen. Together, we shall rule this entire continent. We will endure. I am the Wrath of God. Who else is with me?”

Surrounded by corpses and a plague of infantile monkeys, Klaus Kinski portrays the conquistador at the finale of Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, The Wrath Of God as he succumbs to madness and furious paranoia. His dreams of conquest wrecked by ill fate and conspiring voices while El Dorado remains a glittering prize out of reach, Aguirre’s failure to control the New World has not diminished his ferocious appetite for destruction as he finally succumbs to an untameable and unforgiving landscape. On Conquistador, Dylan Carlson follows another, unnamed Spanish explorer of the 16th century as he voyages north through Mexico and then towards what will one day become Florida, where there is another dangerously narcissistic destroyer of worlds.

In many ways, Conquistador plays like a prequel to Concrete Desert, last year’s collaboration between Earth and The Bug which navigated a audio-spatial recreation of the modern USA. Conquistador steps centuries back in time to the violent creation myths which formed the country, with Carlson playing in his most stripped-down mode since the earliest Earth releases 25 years ago. During that period, Carlson has steadily built up a body of work which defines him as a great modern-day American artist with an identifiably auteurist methodology. Some critical discourse on Conquistador has complained that it finds Carlson sticking within his recognised musical parameters, which is a bit like saying Miles Davis’s Dark Magus sounds similar to Miles Davis’s Agharta or that one Jackson Pollock painting looks much like another. Conquistador is recognisably cut from the same artistic mindset as Earth 2 or Primitive And Deadly but is as different from them as they are from each other. Each record Carlson releases, as Earth or under his own name, seems to both evolve from and react to the previous one.

Fittingly, Conquistador begins and ends with percussive sweeps which bring to mind soft waves lapping at a beach or river’s edge. As Carlson has said, each record should carry with it a feeling of journeying and of how the journey changes you. These gentle tides which usher in the opening title track are quickly subsumed by a ferocious cataclysm of guitar-work and a piece which doesn’t so much set a scene as put you within a space and then slowly disembowel reality around you. Time is stretched across these 13 minutes – nearly half of this short LP – as ‘Conquistador’ generates the feeling of travelling across vast distances with a shimmering horizon far ahead, always unattainable. The track crawls forward, guitars layering and feeding back on themselves like a devouring ouroboros, until it expunges itself in a delirious heat-haze.

Shorter pieces ‘When The Horses Were Shorn Of Their Hooves’ and ‘Scorpions In Their Mouths’ are played, as befits their titles, with astonishing violence and venom by Carlson and accompanied by percussion from his wife Holly – her playing is like the sweep of a cleaver as it slices through air towards bone. ‘And then the Crows Descended’ is a brief skin-crawling vignette of rusty creaks and gathering insect chatter, while closing piece ‘Reaching The Gulf’ is a final elegiac sunset in which we hear our fellow traveller of the album title vanish into myth. It is, somehow, a hopeful ending – it is free from the descent into paranoia and madness that can beset those looking to vanquish imaginary foes and subjugate a land. Hope is the finest companion on any journey and, in ‘Reaching The Gulf’, we hear the possibility of days and years ahead where we might change for the better.

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