Nor for the first time, Adam Burke‘s cover painting was the first source of intrigue about this album. The intrigue deepened when I listened to what was publicly available at the time I first saw the painting. The music in many ways was pretty far afield of what we usually cover at this site, and maybe that was part of its attraction — the allure of something stylistically different, and yet in its own way just as dark, as bone-bruising, and as emotionally super-charged as the metal extremity that takes up most of our time here. Little did I know, even then, how intensely involving the complete album would be.
The album in question is …This Earth Shaped Tomb by the Florida band Gillian Carter. It’s their fifth full-length, a 15-track, 35-minute affair that proves to be a constantly changing and perpetually surprising juxtaposition of sounds and moods. It will be released on August 31st by Skeletal Lightning in North America and Moment of Collapse Records in Europe — and we have a full stream of it for you right now, preceded by bunch of spoilers.
To use the most superficial of characterizations, the music blends stylistic ingredients from screamo, post-punk, hardcore, and post-rock, with some ambient textures as well. To delve a little deeper, there is anger and anguish in the music. It hits hard enough to rupture organs, slashes at the listener’s emotional well-being, and draws you into moody reveries. It’s chaotic enough to scramble the brain, but also becomes almost hypnotically beguiling. In other words, you don’t ever really know what’s going to happen next; it becomes an edge-of-your-seat experience — but a dark one for sure.
The darkness in the music is probably at least in part a reflection of what inspired it. To quote the band’s guitarist/vocalist Logan Rivera:
“Humanity’s lust to conquer new land in the name of God brought death, disease, and slavery. Something I’ve always wondered was whether or not anyone’s morality was ever questioned at any point during all of it. If so, how did they sleep at night?”
The album begins and ends in very different ways. “Pill Sick (Becoming Negative Space)” combines beefy riffs, thudding bass, and skittering, shrieking, squalling leads. The melodic currents are bleak and furious, the rhythms head-moving, the screamo vocals wrenching in their intensity. When the percussive battering stops, funereal chords ring out like the tolling of bells clotted with blood; the melody at the end is sweeping and desolate. It’s just a first taste of how the band turn corners to reveal things you don’t see coming.
On the other end, the closer “Heaving Violence” is a languorous instrumental — both grieving and glistening. Small pinging tones and cloudy notes unfold into a drum pattern that begins in a stately cadence, accompanied by a slow, spine-vibrating bass and chiming guitar motifs. The drumming becomes more syncopated; the repetition of those guitar refrains becomes mesmerizing.
And so many other things happen in between those very different bookends, arranged in a way that persistently pushes the listener off-balance.
“A Complete Disconnection” launches with a bounding, punk-like gait and ringing chords. Suddenly, you hear isolated strumming and a layering of other notes and noises. The mood seems wistful — and then the band discharge head-hammering beats and a crestfallen, jangling melody.
The album moves from the jolting, pugilistic, abrasive, and defiant assault of “Visionless” into the jackhammering basslines and gloomy, swirling guitars of “This Rotting Vessel Appears“. Through tumbling drums and a grim, lashing melody, you can detect wisps of ethereal shining.
I’m spoiling another surprise, but Gillian Carter then turn a corner into the rhythmic strumming and the ripple and ping of acoustic picking in “Pure Consciousness“, which seems both backwoods- and flamenco-flavored — only to turn again into a trip down mean streets with the bruising, battering, brawling fury of “Hoping That There’s a God” — which ends with a sorcerous guitar melody entwined with a blood-splatter of freakish noises.
What begins as a slow, introspective guitar harmony becomes a grim, bludgeoning gut-puncher augmented by raking melodic chords in “Distant Blue Ambiance“, while “A Man Made Fear Keeping Me Here” transforms from a galloping jaunt into a shuddering lurch, with a blend of gloomy, gleaming, and head-twisting riffs laced with the haunting, mystical, soaring trill of the lead guitar.
From there, the instrumental “Cloven Consciousness” delivers a miasma of massive, granite-crushing bass noise over a syncopated drum beat, and that crushing experience then leads into the bright and bouncing, racing and soaring, grieving and glorious strains of “Synthetic Lies“.
By this point, you become acutely aware that Gillian Carter aren’t going to let your head stay in one place for very long, even within a single song. They follow “Synthetic Lies” with the fleeting, furious barrage of “Descent into Darkness” as a prelude to the title track.
In “This Earth Shaped Tomb“, beautifully wistful solo picking forms a prelude to a slow, stalking cadence and a desolating melody, the voice a raw expression of boiling pain. A bright solo guitar over a neck-snapping drum cadence forms a bridge into a melodic elaboration accented by a soulful solo that’s full of heart-ache — but the song closes with a pile-driving finish. The track does seem to build a tomb, seal you within it, and then let a few rays of light come in.
They choose to move from what might be the album’s centerpiece into a 10-second blast of shrieking, jabbing, squalling sound (“Condemned to Rot“), and then the tension-ratcheting, spleen-busting, apocalyptically gloomy “Maddening Strife” — which includes an interlude made from an otherworldly guitar arpeggio and weird electronic tones.
The album really is an intensely involving experience, and for all its twists and turns, it’s still distinctively individualistic. Gillian Carter have their own style, one that comes through powerfully in this album, even if describing it succinctly is a daunting challenge.
I hope you’ll give it a full listen, and that you’ll find it as well worth your time as I have.