The Riff. The almighty ostinato. What is the Power of the Riff? Well, it’s a two-day, bi-coastal metal festival and, as of about a week ago, it’s from whence Eagle Twin came.
“I’ve come to think of riffs as these bigger-than-life things,” says singer-guitarist Gentry Densley. “They’re kind of universal in a way, you know? Like mythology—where it’s passed down. And there are certain archetypal things about it. It’s almost like this big entity you can channel through instruments and walls of amps. I don’t know what the power of it is, but it definitely can move people.”
Densley and drummer Tyler Smith played the West Coast edition of record label Southern Lord’s popular festival. Virtually every band on the schedule, whether considered stoner, doom, sludge, punk or experimental, is quite handy with the riff—which, by the way, is a short repeated musical pattern. In metal, that’s the low, guttural guitar sound that causes fans to thrust devil horns in the air. For unifying an audience, it’s as good or better than an anthemic chorus because it’s the harbinger of awesomeness present and yet to come.
Eagle Twin is especially adept at riffage, which Densley also likens to language. “There are different kinds of cadences or phrases or things that you can add to and subtract from,” he says. “It happens best when you let it flow.”
Since forming in 2007, Densley and Smith have cultivated such fluency. Their shows are legendary face-melters where the songs can go on walkabout through hyperbolic forests to emerge “exhausted and hoarse,” holding the severed heads of nonbelievers. Densley ascribes this to spontaneity and an unspoken negotiation between him and Smith. Densley says the fun for Eagle Twin is blurring the line between transparency and ostensible magic and “being able to shift on a dime. You gotta get the other guy on the same page—or not. You just juxtapose two ideas and … hammer it out in the moment. People tell me they like to watch that kind of chaos solidify into something.”
Eagle Twin coalesced similarly, although not through chaos. Densley is a local, almost mythical, guitar hero since his days in post-hardcore/jazz group Iceburn. That band predates, by no small margin, even the Napster-era Internet and still enjoys a cult following. Several projects later, Densley wound up in Form of Rocket with Smith. “Smashy Smashy kinda turned into Eagle Twin, in a way,” Densley says. “A lot of the ideas carried over. They just kept getting heavier, slower and louder. And a little more focused.”
Now paired as Eagle Twin, the duo has already released their sophomore album, The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale (Southern Lord), and is gaining traction. They have toured the United States, are heading to Australia and New Zealand with Russian Circles later this fall, and return for a November jaunt with Earth. Even better: Guitar World recently premiered the track “The Ballad of Job Cain Part II,” giving Densley a taste of long-deserved recognition. Densley says, “That was pretty awesome,” but modestly credits the efforts of Southern Lord and his publicist, Dave Brenner.
He’d also probably balk at lofty appraisals of his band, or giving Eagle Twin its own mythology. It’s not like they came together across vast deserts or galaxies. But there’s something there.
The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale picks up where 2009’s The Unkindness of Crows left off. In Crows, birds engaged the Sun, got burned and fell to Earth as blackened serpents. When writing Feather, Densley did “my own weird research into snakes and horned snakes and different native myths” and borrowed from poets Ted Hughes (the primary muse on Crows) and Federico García Lorca, as well as the Bible. Initially, Densley says, Eagle Twin wanted to “get back to the egg,” whether a bird’s or a snake’s. They wound up resolving to crows, but the concept is the same.
“It’s about following the arc of life,” Densley says, influenced by a period where “things were getting pretty dark in [our] lives.”
The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale, then, is about suffering, punishment and ultimate transformation as the crow-snake-crow experiences a corporeal and spiritual shift. Densley realizes this is “pretty epic” and is willing to negotiate its interpretation. “It’s kind of like the music takes from everywhere but allows you to form your own aesthetic through your own filters.” As to its impact, Densley leaves that open, too. “I’m a realist and I’ll keep my day job … for now. Everything kinda builds on itself. I’m just happy to leave a good lineage. Maybe the music will outlive me.”