Nearly a decade into their existence, Denver’s In the Company of Serpents—led by guitarist and vocalist Grant Netzorg and drummer J.P. Damron (Vermin Womb, Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire)—are changing things up. In the Company of Serpents recruited guitarist and bassist Ben Pitts to round out the lineup for Lux, the Denver trio’s fourth and most-developed album to date.
Lux is a riff-driven affair, something In the Company of Serpents make very obvious from the first second of mammoth opener “The Fool’s Journey” to the dark spaghetti western sounds so present on “The Chasm at the Mouth of All” and album closer “Prima Materia.” The combination of influences gives In the Company of Serpents a unique sound; the droning sludge trio have riffs for days, but it’s the thoughtful inclusion of spaghetti western music that elevates Lux to a new level.
In the Company of Serpents will officially release Lux tomorrow, May 15, but Decibel has an early album stream as well as a track-by-track walkthrough with Netzorg about the album’s themes, special guests and more. It becomes quickly apparent: there is more to Lux than meets the eye—Lux is heavy with spirituality and esoterica, each lyric and decision carefully weighed. Pre-order the album here.
“This record is titled Lux, i.e. ‘light’ in Latin, and one of the central ideas behind it is the notion of a Prima Materia, or fundamental root essence behind everything in the manifest universe,” Netzorg explains of the album’s theme. “Philosophers, hermeticists, alchemists, occultists and all manner of different wizards have speculated what that Prima Materia, or “root essence,” is, but the three chief analogies I’ve employed in this record are: All is sound All is mind and, critically, All is Light.
“With that in mind, we are employing a wealth of Solar imagery with this record, both in the front cover, and lyrically. The cover is essentially an artistic re-imagining of The Sun arcana from Tarot. This ties into the broader solar & light themes at play in the album, but the title, cover, and broader theme is also uniquely personal to me. “Lux” is the etymology of my daughter’s name, Lucia. So, while this album functions as form of esoteric prayer on one hand, it also serves as a message to my 2-year-old, who, as they say in the cliché, is the light of my life.”
“The Fool’s Journey”
The basic idea of this song is that a tarot reading was done on the fate of humanity should we continue to follow our current trajectory, and it spelled bad news in no uncertain terms. However, divinations like this only portend future events should we not change our path in any way, and we ultimately have the agency to avoid negative outcomes should we decide to change our course when we foresee them. As such, the message here is not so much that we’re doomed, but that we stand at a critical juncture where we have the opportunity to ultimately change things for the betterment of all. But this will require us to act. The second half of the song appeals to that agency. On the heels of the tarot reading corresponding to the initial doomed question, a second question is posed: “What can we do about this?” The result points to our own fundamental ability to self-empower.
The title of this song is a nod to the tarot. In many decks the Fool is depicted as a young individual who is carelessly about to step off a cliff. This metaphor is often used to describe the first steps of a person’s magical initiation, but it is also represented in the lyrics which begin, “We’re standing on the precipice of our own demise, laughing in its face. It will ignore our cries.”
I like the idea that our understanding of time is fundamentally flawed, and the implication that, if we can use tools like Tarot to glean the shape of things to come, it also empowers us with the agency to shift fates. Yes, the world is a bit of a dumpster fire on the broader level, but on an individual level we can affect positive change. As the writer and host of the Rune Soup podcast, Gordon White, has been quoted saying several times, “Optimism is a Spell!” The song closes with a quote from Jodorowski’s The Holy Mountain, a film rife with tarot symbolism relevant to this song and album.
“Scales Of Maat”
The imagery here is of the weighing of one’s heart/soul against a feather in Egyptian mythology. The scale was calibrated by Maat, and if you had lived a just, good life, your heart would be lighter than the feather. If you lived an unjust, evil life, you would be cast into darkness. The principle theme here is that we are all judged by our deeds, actions and sympathies. The closing lyrics which feature guest vocals from Ethan Lee McCarthy of Primitive Man, Vermin Womb and Many Blessings and Ben Hutcherson from Khemmis and Glacial Tomb to this song are, “When we’re gone we’ll be consumed by the maw of the all. Will we have been a worthy vessel for the light of the void?”
This centers around themes of life, birth and rebirth, and general cycles of renewal. It is the first of two instrumental pieces on the album featuring my friend, Paul Primus, of the Colorado Symphony, performing the Viola D’Amore, a type of viola which uses drone strings beneath the fingerboard to vibrate in sympathy with the other strings. It is tuned to the somber tuning of DADFAD with A=432hz. That tuning is known to guitarists as the “Skip James tuning,” as that bluesman was famous for utilizing it to wonderful, eerie effect in his songs like “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” and “Crow Jane,” and it’s the tuning which four of the album’s songs employ. However, it bears mentioning that it is said in certain esoteric circles that A=432hz is the vibration at which all of creation resonates, and thus is sometimes called “the God frequency.” This whole album was recorded with our tuners calibrated to A=432hz, and this is meant to consciously tie in to the theme of Prima Materia, or a fundamental root-essence, that runs throughout the whole record.
“The Chasm At The Mouth Of The All”
The overarching theme of Prima Materia and the “All is Sound/All is Mind/All is Light” current I mentioned above are chiefly what’s at play here. The title of the song, and the opening lyric, “We live in Chasm at the mouth of the All,” is meant to confer that we live in an embodied, living universe, or God, if you will. The second line, “Her lips are wet with venom and her quarry will fall,” is both a homage to a vinyl-only bonus track from one of my all-time favorite records, SunnO))) and Boris’ Altar, as well as an assertion that, if we live in an embodied universe and it is all of God, God gets what it wants.
There are other themes at play as well here: in the second verse we have the lines, “The sky above is the celestial womb; the soil beneath us the seed and our tomb.” This is playing with a Nuit/Hadit dynamic from Crowley’s infamous Book Of The Law, which he posited he had received telepathically from an angelic entity after performing the Headless Rite from the Greek Magical Papyri in the chamber of the great pyramid. The themes of Sex/Life/Death are all fairly intertwined here, and this could function thematically as a sibling of the earlier tune, “Scales Of Maat.” On that same theme, we all know that our journeys will end in death, and the reality is we must navigate that.
In Qabalah, the sephira, Binah, is associated crossing the void of death, and one of its alternate titles is “The Great Sea,” and this is what I’m referencing in the lyric, “Born unto the universe, The Great Sea we must traverse.” I’ve since come to realize that themes of life and death are utterly intertwined for me and this record. One rather unsettling example of this is that, on the day (and probably down to the hour) that we finished recording this album, we unexpectedly lost my wife’s father. The later track, “Nightfall,” on which my friend Paul Primus once again performs Viola D’Amore, was used during the memorial service, and is thematically about death and the ends of cycles.
This is the song that is most directly a message to my infant daughter, in terms of the broader themes of this record. With the lyrics, “Child of Light, Blessed of inner sight,” I am playing with the etymology of her name once again, but also the broader theme of the Prima Materia being something that could be described as light, and that her capacity to look within is a blessing. The next line, “Your mind is larger than you think; divinity’s within your reach,” is playing with the notion that, if everything is of the All, and it All is divine, then we are each microcosmic reflections of the All experiencing itself, and thus divinity is not some abstraction that is apart from us.
“As above, so below” is one way this notion is usually articulated. Another way that the root essence has often been described is “all is love” or that love is fundamental to the operation of the universe. This idea manifests in lyrics like the one that ends the song, “Inflame thyself with reverence, a love supreme enthroned” which is both a nod to Coltrane’s classic album, A Love Supreme, as well as the instruction to “inflame thyself with prayer” that is commonly quoted in occult discourse as a reminder that passion begets results.
This is running with the Gnostic idea that we’re trapped in a spiritual prison of sorts, and that the demons/prison wardens (the Archons of the song title) are constantly engaged in keeping us thoughtless, disengaged sheep. The lyrics are a call for us to engage directly and presently with our lives, and thus regain some semblance of what lies in our true spirit. The “chorus” (if you want to call it that) of the first half of the tune is, “The machinations of control, Hiding in plain sight, Gilded Bars upon our cage, Slip them and take flight,” and is very much in line with that notion. The mystic Gurdjieff remarked that most people are dead, or asleep, to their own innate spirituality and/or our souls. Only by directly engaging with the world around us, particularly when the gilded bars of our cage are so lovely and comfortable, can we regain our sense of spirit.
As mentioned earlier, this is the other tune which features Paul Primus on Viola D’amore. It’s meant as a somber mirror of the earlier tune, “Daybreak.” The compositions are almost identical, but this is thematically more about death, fall, and the end of cycles.
This is the most simple, direct version of the overarching theme of a fundamental root-essence which runs throughout the rest of the record. It plays with the three iterations of that notion mentioned above: “All is Sound/All is Mind/All is Light” in verses that are meant, on one level, as devotionals. The last part of the tune just lays that all out in caveman terms—”Light pervades all—Prima Materia.”