Eagle Twin: The Serpent and The Crow

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Eagle Twin’s Gentry Densley (vocals/guitar) and Tyler Smith (drums) celebrate their second release this summer. Photo: Chad Kirkland

Eagle Twin is two beasts, operating in a spectrum of duality. Eagle Twin is finesse and power. Eagle Twin combines the power of the riff with the freeness of jazz. Eagle Twin is the serpent and the crow. Eagle Twin is Gentry Densley and Tyler Smith. In 2009, the band released their first album, The Unkindness of Crows, on the legendary Southern Lord Records. Tours of the US, Europe and Australia with the likes of Sunn O))), Earth and Pelican followed, exposing Eagle Twin to throngs of new fans outside of Salt Lake City. Now, the band is preparing to release their second album, The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale.

Densley and Smith formed Eagle Twin in 2007, though the two had been collaborating on and off for nearly a decade in the likes of Furious Fire and Form of Rocket. Densley fronted local legends Iceburn from 1991-2001, transforming the group from a punk and metal powerhouse into an experimental entity incorporating jazz and improvisation freely into their aggressive framework. If Densley represents the finesse of Eagle Twin, then Smith embodies the power. His fierce drumming style reflects his background in punk with Clear and Hammergun. “When I started playing with Gentry, a whole new world opened up,” Smith says. “I felt that I could start freeing myself out of the 4/4 and experimenting with things.”

Eagle Twin’s unique character comes from the combination of disparate influences. The thick riffs of Black Sabbath and the blistering guitar of Jimi Hendrix lay heavy on the band’s sound, but so does the improvised freakiness of Mahavishnu Orchestra and the primal harshness of throat-singing. “[When we started,] we were coming from more of a blues place and with more pop structures in there. Then we started embracing the metal side of the music and ourselves. Metal has its own language and is a little more open,” Densley says. This approach to metal is what makes Eagle Twin’s music stand out in a genre that often becomes stagnant, and nowhere is this more evident than in their live performance.

Live, Eagle Twin’s binary nature works completely in tandem. Densley and Smith transform their recorded songs into something fluid, eschewing structure for feeling and improvisation. Rather than creating a traditional set list, the band incorporates different elements of multiple songs into a sprawling, continuous creation. “We always have a starting point, but that’s usually about it,” Smith says. Visual cues between the two send Densley’s bluesy guitar into war with Smith’s explosive drumming, pulling songs into different directions as the dissonant elements force themselves into destructive harmony. “It keeps things fresh for us. I think it really does translate to the crowd. We’re not just going through the motions—we have to be in the moment,” Densley says.

Translating the sensation of a live Eagle Twin show to record is no easy task, but producer Randall Dunn, who worked on both Eagle Twin albums, is certainly up to the challenge. Serving as a producer for Sunn O))), Earth and Wolves in the Throne Room, Dunn’s pedigree is indicative of his capability to capture atmosphere. “Randall’s pretty hands-on and does live mixes. He adjusts things in time and lets the board do a lot of the stuff. He compresses things in a way that lets them pop out in a certain way,” Densley says. Working from a soundboard that is “bigger than most people’s cars,” according to Densley, Dunn’s equipment amplifies the already-enormous sound of Eagle Twin to even larger sizes. Dunn also pushed Eagle Twin to record each song on the new album in single takes, keeping overdubs to a minimum and forcing them to play continuously to capture a feeling similar to their live show.

One of the most striking aspects of Eagle Twin’s debut was the lyrical content, rife with symbolism and largely inspired by poet Ted Hughes’ Crow. On the album’s final track, Densley’s throat delivers the tale of crows flying into the sun, being burnt and falling to the ground as snakes. This is where The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale picks up, focusing on the mythological and symbolic incarnations of the snake. “The snake is reflective of both of our lives—we were kind of in a crazy low spot,” Densley says. “I ended up with a divorce and Tyler ended up with twins. We went in opposite directions, but we were both in weird places. It was a heavy time.” Drawing Inspiration from the Old Testament (Job, in particular), Densley transformed these experiences into the mythic language of Eagle Twin, conveying meaning while remaining otherworldly. Or, to put it another way, Smith says, “Don’t fuck with a snake, man.”

This year is shaping up to be a busy one for Eagle Twin. In August, they will travel to Calif. to play Southern Lord’s Power of the Riff festival with Gaza. This fall, they will travel to Australia to tour with Russian Circles. But before their trek, you can catch them in Salt Lake at the Doom and Gloom Fest at Burt’s Tiki Lounge on Friday, July 20. An official release date for The Feather Tipped the Serpent Scale has yet to be announced, but expect it later this summer.

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