Around the time that Denver sludge-metal band In the Company of Serpents finished its last album, 2017’s Ain-Soph Aur, frontman Grant Netzorg discovered he would soon be a parent. He started pondering big questions about being, selfhood and consciousness, and once his daughter, Lucia, was born, he undertook exercises in self-actualization and radical personal change.
The title of the trio’s new album, Lux, which dropped on May 15, is Latin for "light"; the name Lucia comes from the same word. Netzorg says the project serves as a form of esoteric prayer as well as a message to his two-year-old daughter, who is the light of his life.
The album was recorded and produced by Dave Otero and includes guest spots from Primitive Man’s Ethan Lee McCarthy, Colorado Chamber Players violist Paul Primus and Khemmis guitarist/vocalist Ben Hutcherson.
One of the central ideas behind Lux is the notion of prima materia, or an original substance from which the universe was formed.
“I've been fairly interested and compelled by the Western esoteric tradition for the last decade or so,” Netzorg says. “And one of the ideas that I kind of stumbled upon through that current was this notion that a lot of different philosophers, occultists and wizards have articulated, which is that there's a fundamental root essence behind all manifest being. I found that kind of poetic and interesting.”
He was fascinated by the idea that if everything were boiled down to the basics, it might all have a shared quality.
“It's something that broaches spirituality, as well,” he says. “The notion that if we're talking about divinity, and God being this omnipotence, or a force that is all powerful, then there can't be anything that exists outside of it. And as such, everything of God is of the divine, right? I find that pretty compelling — and vaguely mind-blowing for my relatively smaller mind.”
Netzorg notes that there are three chief analogies on the new album: “All is sound, all is mind, and all is light.” As he explains it, the three are "different ways of describing that fundamental root essence...hence the title Lux, or light.”
Although many of the new album's lyrics have to do with light and solar imagery, the music itself is still ominous and sludgy, just as it is on earlier releases from the band, which started as a duo in 2011. On four of the songs, Netzorg uses a DADFAD guitar tuning, which he says he first came across while hearing Delta bluesman Skip James play on recordings of “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” and “Crow Jane.”
“It's really eerie, haunting tuning, and you can't help but write some pretty spooky stuff,” he says.
Since the group's second release, Of the Flock, Netzorg has been using the same tuning on his lap steel to create atmospheric drones; he picks whatever note the key of the song is in, then lets it drone and hover to create a ghostly, ethereal hum.
While he was very happy with how Ain-Soph Aur turned out, Netzorg realized that, from a writing perspective, he’d need to bring somebody else on board to really do what he wanted, and not just make noises that were relegated to the studio.
“And there's a certain fidelity to live performance that I have a lot of respect for and that I want to make sure comes off in our live performance," he says. "I didn't want to be triggering all kinds of stuff from sample pedals in order to cover that ground.”
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That's one of the reasons he recruited Ben Pitts, who’s played in Nightwraith and False Cathedrals, to play bass and lap steel.
“He's coming up with this really cool style of playing where basically he keeps on playing his bass parts while still adding in these drones on a lap steel that we have on the stand side of the stage,” Netzorg says.
JP Damron, who’s also played with Vermin Womb, Bleakheart and Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire, took over for longtime Serpents drummer Joe Meyer about two years ago. The first show the current lineup played was opening for Godflesh in late 2018.
“It's been a cool evolution,” Netzorg says. “My running joke is that it's really a privilege to play with musicians whose talent and ability far outshine your own, because it makes you come up with better shit."