Serpentent Ponders Death On “The Fountainhead Of Fire” (Video Premiere + Interview)
What if there was no more death? Washington's Serpentent ponders death's death and the end of mortality through a neofolk and chamber music lens (with some doom metal flourishes). The work of Anne K. O'Neill, who is also a visual artist and is active in many other projects, Serpentent's moody, otherworldly sounds looks to various worldviews on immortality and death itself, be it a physical personification or an act of mass death, and displays them in a whirlwind of influence and atmospheres. Listen to an exclusive debut of the 11+ minute "The Fountainhead of Fire" and read an interview with O'Neill below.
Today we're debuting the eleven-plus minute "The Fountainhead of Fire," Mother of Light's longest track. What can you tell me about this song, and what made you want to release your album's longest track as a single?
Since a few people have asked me about it, first off I would like to mention that, "The Fountainhead of Fire", is definitely not an allusion to the Ayn Rand book, The Fountainhead. I'm not a fan of hers and it's completely unrelated. I simply think that the word "fountainhead" is beautiful and was a more appropriate synonym for the word "origin." That said, this song is an allegory about the genesis of the search for light/illumination, wisdom, and esoteric knowledge as told through the lens of a narrator, as well as within a dialogue between Fire and Sun. It's the idea that on earth we were fumbling through existence, trying to make sense of reality, and one day we looked at the Sun and decided the solution was to be more like it. And so Fire came to be, to "be the Sun on earth, to shine, to be the Light." In the song, however, the Sun essentially says, "That's all good and well, but check your ego and your Shadow. The psyche is tricky and oftentimes dangerous."
This is indeed the longest track on the album. The thing is the rest of the songs on the record are also fairly substantial–with two more of them clocking in at just over 10 minutes–so essentially the second single was destined to be lengthy regardless of which song I chose. Considering that, I opted for this song for numerous reasons. It compositionally and thematically represents the dense layers and metaphors found within the entire album. Furthermore, I'm massively inspired by prog rock, kraut rock, and classical music, so extensive and thoughtfully constructed pieces have been important to me since a young age and I feel this track represents that well. There's additionally a lot of sonic diversity happening throughout–replete with flute accompaniments, timpani drums, guest vocals, and some distortion pedals being used during the chorus–and as an artist fascinated with the exploration of sound, I hope that will be something which leads people to want to remain engaged with it rather than feel deterred.
This fascination with sound certainly pervades the album, giving it almost a cinematic and visual aspect which goes beyond the artwork. Do you think of your music as visual in that respect?
I adore literature and cinema and, those things being naturally imaginative and visual, they certainly impact how I compose music. I'm incredibly interested in evoking a range of moods, setting specific tones, and creating landscapes with words, images, and sound, because I very much think of music as an immersive experience. When I write the songs for Serpentent, I'm not thinking about trying to emulate one band or another, specifically with the intention and hope that I'll create something different and compelling. What I am trying to do is let the music flow, let an atmosphere form organically, allow it to become what it will, and then thoughtfully plan out structures and subsequent accompaniments around that output. That said, with Mother Of Light, as it unfolded, I wanted to really saturate the entire thing from as many artistic angles as I could. So while the original goal wasn't so much to make it become such a cinematic work, it makes sense that it more or less did by default.
Mother of Light is the first volume of a larger series titled Ancient Tomes. What is the overarching concept which ties these albums together?
Ancient Tomes is a concept trilogy which tells the tale of the death of Death as a means to explore many of the paradoxes found within human existence. Considering that, Mother Of Light, is actually Death herself, as depicted on the cover of the record. And I chose to call Death the "Mother Of Light", not necessarily because she is light but more because she inspires it. Reasonably so, people look at death negatively, but in navigating my own personal experiences with loss and grief, it's much easier to accept when you come back to the reality that death is a necessary aspect of life and that it's all intertwined. It's not that simple per se, but without going on for too long, that's the general idea. On a broader scale, I'm also contemplating the sort of collective cognitive dissonance that people have, wherein we're obsessed with living as long as possible while simultaneously being responsible for so much chaos and self-destruction; e.g. even as scientists warn us about the dangers of climate change, we continue to do very little about it. I feel a lot of that ties into Jungian psychology, which I make allusions to fairly often in my songs. The following two albums are intended to incorporate these tropes while investigating what happens after Death dies. The idea isn't for the work to be entirely didactic, I'm not claiming to have answers, but I am interested in exploring various themes and dualities that have continuously presented themselves over the course of history.
Following your explorations, what do you feel would happen if Death died?
That's definitely the question at hand, but unfortunately it's also kind of impossible to answer without divulging too much about the next two records. I don't mean to be overly cryptic, but there's truly not much I can say in response that wouldn't give away what unfolds in the second album, or "volume", as well as the third, which reveals the conclusion.
Mother of Light releases May 20th via Svart Records