Thursday, 11 October 2012

Eagle Twin - The Feather Tipped the Serpent's Scale

Eagle Twin's music takes me a while to digest, and I've been sitting on this album for a few weeks now. But after seeing them in full flight at the ANU Bar last Thursday, playing between Canberra's I Exist and headliners Russian Circles (thanks Heathen Skulls!), the motivation to try to write about The Feather Tipped the Serpent's Scale came pretty quickly. Their 40-odd minute performance simultaneously battered and mesmerised the crowd with its completely unique combination of stomach churning doom, soulful acid blues and ethereal meandering. The presence they command and the cascade of sonic lava they spew forth utterly belies the fact that there are only two people on stage. Gentry Densley chokes some unbelievable textures out of his guitar and tempers the music's "artiness" with the right amount of neck breaking groove, while Tyler Smith beats the living shit out of his drums like a possessed ape, to lock the audience in for the whole journey.

I had seen Eagle Twin live a couple of times before and really got a lot out of their first album, The Unkindness of Crows. I have always thought of them as an alchemical concoction derived from Warhorse (of As Heaven Turns to Ash fame), Neurosis and Tom Waits. But there is also an undeniably strong sense of poetry in their music: the unconventional phrasing of both the guitar parts and the lyrics; the sometimes subtle, sometimes abrupt shifts in timing; and the band's express acknowledgement of their literary, biblical and hymnal sources of inspiration in the liner notes. There is an overarching theme across the two albums, described in Southern Lord's promo blurb on The Feather Tipped the Serpent's Scale as follows:

In this installment the crows documented in the first album have battled the sun and were burned back down to earth as black snakes, the concept of the album continuing mainly on the snake and its various mythic and symbolic incarnations. Ultimately the great ancestral snake is transformed from its lowly beginnings back into a bird soaring upon the thermals. 

Right on. And with that, it's time to dispense with the background and turn to face the album.

"The Ballad of Job Cain" is spread over the first two tracks and sets the tone within a few seconds. It begins with Densley's trademark multiphonic singing layered over subdued feedback, before the guitar and drums interweave and morph into a beast of a riff that sticks around only long enough to slowly disintegrate back into a different form of itself as the foundation for one of the first main vocal passages. From there, the song travels a treacherous landscape of peaks and valleys with subtle, controlled crescendos toward heaving riffage that cuts away to morose, isolated chants before climbing back up again. And that ride cymbal underpinning the rolling, brutal groove passages that break out kills me!

The plodding drudgery of the start of "Lorca (Adan)" is given life by the increasingly thick atmosphere that builds with intermittent flashes of tremolo picking before melting into a fuzzed out drone toward the song's end. "HornSnakeHornS" threatens to explode underneath its straightforward vocal melody a couple of times, but holds back until it escalates (still with restraint) and blends into the short instrumental, "It came to pass...".

"Snake Hymn" starts as a pounding juggernaut punctuated by heartbeat-length pauses (again, that ride cymbal!), then opens out into a soaring guitar jam until returning to a hacked up version of the original riff with, deeper, darker vocals. "Epilogue" closes the album proper with a hypnotic, slave driver's drumbeat pushing forward a doom-laden intonation on the rebirth of the crow. The LP version also contains a bonus live track, "Ghosts of Eden", which makes it worth getting the vinyl if you're thinking of buying this.

In this one geek's humble opinion, Eagle Twin are operating on another level. In all honesty, I think I lack the vocabulary, musical or otherwise, to adequately describe this record. But the saving grace for me, and I think the genius in the music, is that you can either take up the challenge and try to follow everything that's going on, or you can simply sit back and let the moods they create burn into you. At the very least, I can safely say this: The Feather Tipped the Serpent's Scale is the perfect soundtrack to locking yourself inside on a sombre, wet, unseasonably cold (it's October for fuck's sake) day.


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