Disillusionment is the ever-present malaise of a society that constantly promises everything. Disillusionment with the mythological life path of education > career > happiness and prosperity, disillusionment in the face of troubled relationships, and disillusionment as reality continues to throw up obstacles in the way of leading the blissful existence we hope for. Yet, throughout the moments of struggle that arise as we wander through it all, this hopefulness lingers– a candle flickering in the often very real darkness of life.
Such is the experience of listening to Aelter’s most recent offering, ‘Aelter IV’, which saw release back in April. Based in Boise, Idaho, Aelter is the personal vision of Blake Green; known also for his work in drone/doom duo Wolvserpent, yet takes a stylistically unique route in its exploration of life’s most pervasive and powerful experiences, blending Western, Gothic, and Americana elements into an overwhelmingly evocative and darkly romantic ambient sound. While this style may strike a different chord than Wolvserpent’s cavernous doom riffery, the sheer emotional heaviness of Aelter IV offers a sonic journey just as potent, leading the listener on a trial through death, love, life, and hope guaranteed to resonate with fans of all forms of emotionally authentic music. Such a statement naturally led us to get in touch with Blake, who told us tales of diverse musical influences, the Old West, and the truth of the American dream.
UH: Thanks very much for your time Blake, and giving us this interview. I wanted to start by asking specifically about the new album, Aelter IV: Love Eternal. The album is dripping with loss and desolation, creating a very dark atmosphere, and seems to carry a deeply personal weight. How were you feeling personally and artistically during the creative process of the record?
BG: It’s my pleasure. During the process of this album I was really focused on how to turn my observations into words. I wanted this album to be different from the last three so I based the music around lyrics and singing. I had not done this before so it presented a lot of challenges. Since I am not a practiced singer songwriter, I don’t general think in terms of lyrics. I’ve always used instrumental music to express what I observe. It was very difficult for me to try and take a larger concept and boil it down to a sentence or two. Perhaps it would have been a good idea to take some classes or read some books on the subject haha. I have the utmost respect for lyricists who can paint vivid pictures and tell potent stories. Personally and artistically I really wanted to challenge myself and push my boundaries. I had to practice not being self-conscious and afraid. Taking the place of a lead vocalist feels very raw and exposed. There is nothing to hide behind; no volume, no amps, no drum kit. I suppose this is part of the magic in singing. The voice is the first instrument we have and it is very personal but also universal in a way that no other instrument is. When you can sing along with someone, it is almost like the song and the words are your own. I have been really interested in this aspect of music over the last few years as I have connected with some vocalists in this way.
Feeding into this overall dark atmosphere, Aelter IV also seems to
follow a journey, both sonically and conceptually, with the track titles reflecting the emotional pace of the music. It gives the impression of the album being based around a personal emotional journey or concept – does this in any way reflect on what were you were aiming to achieve with the album?
When I began Aelter I was really into reading about the old west and became fascinated with the history of working women in the west, particular in my region. I found a book that was a collection of journals and diaries from women who worked in brothels, saloons or as “hurdy gurdy girls”. In my understanding this was pretty much the only work available for women at the time. Essentially you were married, a prostitute, escort or saloon girl, although there were some fairly famous Madams as well. In these diaries there is a desolate, desperate and horrific romance filled with heartbreak, anger and tragedy that seeps from the pages, as well as powerful examples of independence, feminism and terrible elements of dependence. The reality of the situations these workers were in was so complicated. With that in mind the titles Death Eternal, Love Eternal, Life Eternal, Hope Eternal take on a very different meaning. When most of one’s experiences with these concepts are complicated and difficult, Death, Love, Life and Hope without a beginning or an end become nothing short of purgatory. Many people find themselves at a place in life where these ideas are not positive. The music and lyrics on Aelter IV often reflect a struggle to overcome this perspective on these concepts. Regardless of how you look at it these are very romantic concepts. There is nothing in life that has no end. All things in life are impermanent. We can wish and hope that the positive and pleasurable will continue. We can imagine there is a place where everything is good forever. So we feel extremes in our pain and losses. We struggle with the ups and downs of life. But there is another way to live and I have been investigating that.
While Aelter is often described as your side project from Wolvserpent, with the new release Aelter have actually surpassed the amount of records you have put out as Wolvserpent. Would you describe either band as being your primary source of creative expression, and what does each project symbolise to you artistically? Does the fact that Aelter’s discography has expanded beyond Wolvserpent’s have any reflection on your current artistic mindset?
No it does not change my mindset. I hadn’t even thought about it haha. Including Gathering Strengths, which was released as Wolvserpent with Blood Seed on Crucial Blast I think we are tied for releases. I do not think of Aelter as a side project. I’ve always made music on my own, doing so has become a big part of my life. Neither project is my primary source for creative expression. Having both projects helps create a good musical balance for me.
Aelter IV is very much influenced by Americana musically, but there also seems to be a deeper, more profound essence of the music that feels deeply connected to America. Is there a deep connection to place within the music and narrative of the album? Could you expand on this if so?
Absolutely. I think you said it better than I could. “Aelter IV speaks of a forgotten and discarded side of America, immersed in resignation and evoking the kind of despondence normally reserved for dead-end, destitute towns, yet with an occasional glint of hope that pierces the gloom.” That kind of sums it up. There are a lot of those towns in this country, more than anyone would like to think. The American dream should be here for all of us (the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers). But as time goes on it is merely a dream, a carrot on the end of a stick; one that can be extremely difficult for people to reach. The balance of power and finances is way off in this country. Public education is getting worse and colleges are so expensive. I see people everywhere just struggling to get by, and so many people struggling with depression, anxiety and poverty. In my state the number of homeless is at an all-time high. It’s sad. People just want to have some time to relax and spend with friends and family, a roof over their head, some food, and a way to get to work, or, for that matter, to have some work. However, I choose to focus on the positive forward momentum that I see around me. I choose to believe in the American dream as a dream for anyone who wants a better life. That is what this country is supposed to be. I see it happening, I see people doing it. I know people who have done it. People who have come from absolutely nothing and built a better life. I know people who are satisfied and happy. So that is probably where the glint of hope comes from.
While Wolvserpent and Aelter are clearly very distinct projects, you’ve counted your influences in the former band as including Bathory, Dead Can Dance and Arvo Part. Just these three names shows the diverse palette you’re inspired by, and no doubt this eclecticism bleeds over into Aelter. What does music require for you to connect with it in that deep way, and how does that motivate you as a musician, specifically in regard to Aelter?
That is a very good question and a difficult one to answer. I am not sure I can put this into words. I feel a connection to REAL music. I think the idea of “death to false metal” can be applied to all genres. I don’t like to limit myself by genre or region or culture. There is so much emotion, artistry and insight to be found in so many forms of music. Music (and food) for me is the key to learning about any culture and when I learn about other cultures I learn about myself and society. I want to learn as much as I can about as much as I can. Music and art allows me to explore the depths of humanity, our collective dreams, insights and history. As a musician, the music I listen to motivates me to be better and to be true to myself and my art. Aelter IV has many musical influences and inspiration from many genres. I think the diversity of influences can be heard in the songs.
The profound sense of isolation, loss, and eventual hopefulness that characterizes Aelter IV suggests that the writing of the album had some kind of cathartic purpose or motivation. Whereas I’ve always found Wolvserpent to be more focused on darker, more negative (and yet beautiful) energies, Aelter IV seems to work towards a more positive and uplifting goal. Does this at all reflect your work with each band? Do you feel that such a cathartic process is integral to meaningful music?
Both projects are extremely cathartic. If this music was not so cathartic I don’t know if there would be many reasons left for me to keep doing this. To my knowledge there is no money in this type of music, in fact it usually costs me a decent amount to continue. I am not interested in being well known or any of the other egocentric dreams associated with rock and roll. I am purely into this for catharsis, expression, communication, growth, manifestation and for art. With both Wolvserpent and Aelter I feel like the investigation and expression of the content is the positive outcome. Learning more about the human condition, growing as a person, choosing a creative path instead of a destructive one, attempting to add to the world instead of take away from it. My hope in the release of these projects is always that someone will hear them and feel like they are not alone, that someone else sees the world in a similar way or is experiencing a similar thing and can relate or even provide a completely different perspective that can open one’s mind and heart to new possibilities. This has been the gift music has given to me and this is why I release my music into the world. In this way both projects in the end are meant to be healing. To me that is the true power of music. Music has the ability to reach across cultures, social status, language barriers etc. and offer us something greater than what we had before. Music helps me connect to something I can’t express any other way. I am proud to be a part of this tradition as a creator. I am starting to see making music as participating in a greater lineage. Building on and learning from those ancestors and masters that have come before. Also….I have always seen Wolvserpent as the more hopeful project. Haha.
While you don’t seem to be too concerned about conventional band formats, Aelter must provide something of its own challenge in terms of allowing the project to expand, as a result of you being the sole member. Was the intention for Aelter always to simply be a source of expression, rather than performance? The live element of Wolvserpent seems pretty important, so I find it interesting that you would chose the purely studio approach for Aelter.
Being the sole creator of a project comes with its advantages, disadvantages and challenges for sure. There is no need to organize multiple schedules and there is a certain freedom that comes with working alone and at my own convenience. But it can be very easy to lose perspective without additional collaborators and the workload is very heavy. The positive social aspect of music and collaboration is also lost. Wolvserpent is 100% collaborative and I really enjoy that. Brittany and I both have very unique and different approaches so it is really rewarding to work in that environment and see what manifests from creative people with different ideas and perspectives. The live performance by Wolvserpent better reflects this relationship than an album and that is why the live performance has become important. Aelter was always meant to be a source of expression rather than performance. However I am currently working on putting together a live band to perform Aelter IV. So perhaps that will change.
While with Aelter has almost no connection to metal musically, there is a musical and atmospheric heaviness that I think probably resonates with audiences who may not have previously been exposed the more experimental margins of music Aelter occupies. How do you perceive the connection aesthetically between your output in Aelter, and your more metal-centric work, and what is your experience of the feedback regarding Aelter IV?
That’s a great observation. One of the ideas for Aelter IV was “what if I played funeral doom without playing funeral doom?” To make an album that is heavy… but not metal in any way. Aelter IV has received some very positive and passionate feedback along with the usual amount of dismissive “too boring…too slow, not enough happens” type feedback that seems common for my projects. Some think Aelter IV just keeps going and going and nothing happens and all the songs are the same; which is somewhat accurate, but kind of the fucking point! Not all people can pay attention and think, even if they do have access to a blog. Putting your art into the world to be judged by strangers sometimes feels like a crazy thing to do for a person who values privacy and solitude. But I want to be clear. I am very, very grateful to those who connect with this art, find the value in it and care enough to offer their support. This support is what makes releases continue to happen and I have met some great people around the world because of this music.
As well as being a fairly unusual experience to the modern listener in a strictly musical sense, Aelter’s blend of genres seems reminiscent of an era prior to the mass consumption/digital interaction with music, with the gothic pop and dark wave elements especially having this almost nostalgic effect. With your DIY approach in your other projects distribution, performance etc), it seems like this is something you feel quite passionately about? Is there a resistance to modern consumption that inspires you also?
I often miss the pre-internet days. I was day dreaming about this just the other day. I was taking a close look at how my existence has changed due to this new pace of life so I do not forget some of the advantages the old way had to offer. As time goes on it becomes easier to forget how things used to be. I do my best to ignore the fact that I am making music in this market, place and time. Although, to be honest, resistance to this modern technology, pace and culture probably plays a larger role in the music than I might like to admit. I feel like a lot of my experimentation with tempo and repetition is probably a rebellion against the modern pace of consumption and entitled, ADD, multi-tasking culture. If the modern pace of life was slower and more relaxed, if I was not exposed to so much stimulus from all directions… I wonder if my music would be the same. Perhaps this is part of the nostalgia; music from a place and time where things unfold slowly and naturally vs. this time and place where a person is entitled to entertainment instantly. I’ve never really looked at music as a form of entertainment. I’ve always experienced it as something more and I try my best to capture elements of that “something more”. A lot of new music seems to be focused on entertaining the listener. A lot of new music seems too self-aware.
Thanks so much for your time Blake, and for the music. What does the future hold for Aelter, and do you have any final comments?
My pleasure, thank you for the thoughtful questions and thank you for reaching out. Aelter will continue to work on a live band and hopefully make another album or two. I would like to thank everyone who has supported this project. I would love to continue releasing this strange music and your support is what makes it possible. Wolvserpent will also be releasing a new album, hopefully in late 2015 or early 2016. Kind regards and RESPECT.