Music

Into the Void with Wolvserpent

Local band confronts fear, lives in the moment

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A few years ago, Brittany McConnell of the local band PussyGutt, started having nightmares about being attacked by a wolf.

"In the dream, she found a way to keep the wolf from coming," said her bandmate, Blake Green. "But then the wolf would turn into a serpent and find its way into the dream anyway."

Eventually, this dream inspired violist-drummer McConnell and guitarist-vocalist Green to give their band a new name: Wolvserpent.

"The whole reason why we chose this name is because at some point in this recurring nightmare, the decision was made to no longer be afraid of this creature," Green explained. "And from that point on, the creature became a friend and a protector."

It seems to have served the duo well so far. Since changing their name, McConnell and Green have built a dedicated fanbase across the U.S. and in Europe. They signed to the powerhouse independent metal label Relapse Records in 2012 and released Perigaea Antahkarana on Sept. 17. While The Sleeping Shaman praises the new 81-minute album as "one of the most rewarding immersive experiences that metal on the more avant-garde end of the spectrum can offer," CVLT Nation calls it "a despairing and difficult record to experience but the payoff is very much worth the pressure." Wolvserpent will play an album release/tour kick-off show with local black metal band Astral Vapors at Neurolux on Friday, Oct. 11.

With its menacing, hypnotic sound, Wolvserpent is often labeled "doom metal" or "drone metal." Green doesn't mind these descriptions--he calls metal "the one genre that's consistently kept my attention over anything else"--but he's not sure of their accuracy.

"I don't even necessarily think we're a metal band," he admitted. "It's up to debate. For me, we just play dark music [with] metal influences. But we have a lot of other influences, too."

These influences include pioneering drone doom band Earth, Estonian composer Arvo Part and American avant-garde composer La Monte Young, the generally acknowledged founder of minimalism and drone music (his work influenced John Cale and The Velvet Underground). In a way, Green thinks of Young--who was born and spent his early childhood in the tiny Southeast Idaho town of Bern--as a uniquely Idahoan musician.

"I could be wrong, but I think I remember the story being [that] he's just basically younger, sitting in a cabin and listening to the wind blow through the sage and realizing the musical possibilities of the drone, essentially," Green said. (Young actually said that it was "the sound of the wind blowing around the corners and through the attic of the log cabin that I was born in.")

Green also hears in Wolvserpent's music the experience of growing up in Idaho. "Desolation and depression, a desert, harsh climate, a small town [and] the feelings that come along with being somewhere that feels like a trap sometimes."

It took McConnell and Green some time to develop their current sound. They formed PussyGutt in 2001, when they were only 18. At first, Green remembered, they were "kids just playing together, not taking anything very seriously, just doing it for fun and to get out whatever pent-up emotions we had for being trapped here."

Gradually, their music evolved from "math-y, crazy punk shit" to something "slower and more spacious." The duo honed its live performance as well, incorporating elements like skulls, arcane symbols and burning sage. Outside of music, Green worked in Boise Weekly's advertising department for six years while McConnell started teaching yoga in 2007 (she won third place for Best Local Yoga Instructor in this year's Best of Boise).

Green considers Perigaea Antahkarana the culmination of a trilogy that begins with 2008's Gathering Strengths (as PussyGutt) and continues through 2010's Blood Seed.

"We chose that name [Gathering Strengths] because it was a phase of introspection and attempting [spiritual] growth," Green explained, while the title Blood Seed came from a Hindu myth "where basically, there's a demon, and every time he's injured, his blood hits the ground and more demons arise. I had this sort of [concept] in my head about how that related to fear breeding fear in our current society."

With Perigaea, which has been available for streaming on stereogum.com since Sept. 16, Green and McConnell sought to blend the ambient sound of Strengths with the more metal-centric sound of Blood Seed. The new album also reflects the duo's efforts to manage that self-perpetuating fear and, in Green's words, "slow down and exist in the moment [without] looking for something else."

Wolvserpent hopes that its music will encourage listeners to start this process for themselves.

"Initially, everything we do is something we sort of do for ourselves," Green explained. "We're not necessarily writing music for other people to like. Our hope is that maybe people [who] are experiencing similar things or looking for similar things will find it and appreciate it and [that it] will help them in the same way that it does us."

The theatrics of Wolvserpent's live show are an extension of that hope. Adding different sensory elements "helps the audience engage. It sets the tone, it sets the atmosphere," Green said. "Because people always say things like, 'Oh yeah, this music would be great for a score or a soundtrack.' ... So I was kind of like, 'Well, let's try to do more of that.' So there [are] things that you can kind of look at that can engage and help people understand the music more."

The band has engaged a variety of audiences over the past three years. Wolvserpent embarked on a cross-country U.S. tour in 2010 and opened for Olympia, Wash.-based black metal band Wolves in the Throne Room on its 2011 European tour. Last year, the band played the Stella Natura festival with Salem, Ore., band Hell (which played at Shredder on Sept. 1) and Menace Ruine, a Montreal duo that played alongside Wolvserpent again at this year's Treefort Music Fest.

Wolvserpent's upcoming tour is much more modest--it has only eight booked dates--but will take the duo along the West Coast from Southern California to British Columbia. Upon returning to Boise, the band hopes to work on new material, including some solo compositions by McConnell--according to Green, a hint of these pieces is in the intro to Perigaea's third track, "In Mirrors of Water."

While reflecting on the Boise music scene, Green expressed some perplexity over its heterogeneity.

"It seemed like there was [a common thread] for a while," he observed. "And then Youth Lagoon happened and the younger kids started making music. And then it was just like, 'Well, that blew this theory out of my head.'"

His hope for Boise is that "our sound will just be people doing what they want to do the best they can do it and sounding as much like themselves as possible."