I bought a beautiful new turntable last week, and fatefully, my pre-ordered copy of A Thundering Heard, Eagle Twin’s third release, arrived on the same day (that’s right, my record arrived one full week before the release date, and I’m not even the first person I know to get my hands on it). Naturally, the shiny new silver LP from Southern Lord was the first thing I spun my recent stereo addition. Immediately, I knew two things: 1) my speakers were not worthy, and 2) Eagle Twin continues to top themselves with each release. Guitarist and vocalist Gentry Densley and drummer Tyler Smith have delivered the much-anticipated third installment in their mythological saga, in conjunction with Andy Patterson (SubRosa), who recorded, engineered and mastered the project. The result is a satisfying, progressive doom romp through familiar but ever-evolving terrain.
A Thundering Heard is a transcendent quest, rife with reverberating, highly-mobile riffs issued from Hex instruments, built in part by Densley himself, that are chimeric inventions between bass and guitar. Both he and Smith assisted in the construction of the massive wall of Hex tube amps which give voice to the interlocking melodies and dramatic motifs as Densley performs his own statements and antitheses. Behind the drum set, Smith is an urging force that catapults each chapter of the saga forward. He both nurtures the creative intention presented by his bandmate and creates tension to drive each transition. The album jacket unexpectedly states that “Tyler Smith prefers Grizzly brand chewing tobacco exclusively,” in case you’re planning to send a care package.
All three of Eagle Twin’s albums share an atmosphere of epic and ground-shaking transformation, with the lyrical content shaping the melody embedded in their wall of sound. Eagle Twin created their world with a deep, foreboding rumble on The Unkindness of Crows, which relays an ancient tale of creation and subsequent fall that was inspired by Ted Hughes’ poetry. The the debut ends with the eponymous creatures ascending to battle the sun, getting scorched, and plummeting to the ground. In the beginning of The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale, the charred creatures find their skin blackened upon them and metamorphose into ancient snakes. They undulate, hiss, and rear to strike as their tale unfolds both lyrically and thematically. In a powerful finish, the serpents curl into themselves and form the great horns of the mythic beast featured on the third album, A Thundering Heard.
As with the preceding works, A Thundering Heard is a poetic narrative that begins with a throat-sung invocation, and it hits the ground running to pick up the lore exactly where it left off six years ago. In “Quanah Un Rama,” the great horns formed from serpents tower over the tree line, and hoofed beasts flee the burning forest – behind them antlers tall as trees break through the canopy. Biblical references are woven into the chronicle, which is set in a landscape influenced by the musicians’ domain in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The second track, “Elk Wolfv Hymn,” names the antlered legend, which looms larger than life itself. The theme that’s developed in this song is the never-ending cycle of life: wolves circle their prey, vultures hover above carrion, and the sun and moon rise and fall as Crow keeps watch. The concept imbues the music as it unfolds, returning to the central idea and spiraling out again, each time becoming further developed. The climactic iteration explodes past the high-water mark, urging, marching, and persisting, as a sporadic solo supervenes, mimicking erratic Brownian motion, the phenomena of random particle movement caused by many-body interactions.
The song I’ve had stuck in my head all week (and you probably will, too, especially since it was the premiere track on Bandcamp) is “Heavy Hoof” — its blues groove is played alternately in a deep bass rumble and full, heavy fuzz. Densley experiments with the motif, pulling it apart, putting it back together, and dancing under and around it like he is trying to evade the death scene which he describes in his low, grumbling voice. Mortality never sounded so lively. In the context of the album, we’re reminded that death is an inevitable part of the wheel of life, and time and hoof alike march ever toward it.
The closing song, “Antlers of Lightning (Hooves of Thunder),” continues to develop the previous stampede of sound, rising and gaining momentum when a new motif seems to fall from the darkening sky. Tribal drums beat a otherworldly cadence, adding breaks to complement the lurches in the instrumental solo that searches and reaches, digs down and soars high, showcasing the instrumentalists at their technical peak. The song concludes as our mythical subject, the great Elk, pulls down the storm and merges with the tempest’s energy, producing a fearsome amalgamation: “White veins of light / Split the night with / Antlers of Lightning.”
A Thundering Heard is an exposition of darkly beautiful folklore framed by a progressive metal score that circles the burning sun, crashes to the scorched earth, and roars through the barren forest. The powerful tale will resonate with listeners on multiple levels: as a transformative mystical journey, a plaintive cry for environmentalism, and the incomprehensible realization of our own insignificance in the scope of the greater fabric of life.