What exactly is time? Is it a linear path, with our entire life set in stone before we’re even born? Is it cyclical, with repeating ages that ensure humanity never learns from its mistakes? Or is it all just an illusion that we’ll never understand? Point is, it doesn’t matter that we’re several months late to cover the latest album from Twin Cities doom act Former World, not least because the album’s themes will never lose relevance.
The band take influence from sci-fi writers like Ursula K. Le Guin and Kim Stanley Robinson, exploring lofty themes through an inventive strain of doom metal that eschews the genre’s usual proclivity for monotony and repetition in favour of a more dynamic style that’s harder to pin down. It’s ruthless and sludgy, but there’s also a sense of momentum that the genre often lacks.
Iterations Of Time’s four expansive tracks merge lighter, ambient passages with hefty riffs to concoct a style that’s less consistently heavy than your average sludge and yet no less overwhelming. Lengthier runtimes allow room for intricacies and subtlety, with the band using looped song structures to reflect the album’s themes of time and its cyclical nature. It’s a stunning album, and one that’s gone somewhat underappreciated in the wider scene.
If you’re yet to hear it, be sure to check it out now, then come back here for an insight into its creation with the band’s Erin Severson.
We wanted to start off by asking about your unique approach to sludge and doom. How did this sound form? Was it the plan from the start to create something with a sci-fi edge or did your style form more organically?
When Mike was forming the concepts and material for Former Worlds, he had started writing with the intent on playing both roles of bass and guitar. Instead of getting a separate person to play bass, he meticulously curated his gear in order to achieve both high and low end by using his bass iv and playing out of two amps, splitting his signal, and using loops in order to create a more dynamic range and add complex layers to the compositions. There has always been a great deal of influence from the start taken from our individual interests in the genre of sci-fi. The inspiration taken from those realms has helped to shape a lot of our composition and lyrical content.
The album title seems to suggest differing versions of time itself. What was the basis for this idea?
The central theme of time came from the instrumentation and composition of the music. Mike was inspired by a series called The Years Of Rice And Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson which deals with elements of birth, death, a limbo state after death dealing with introspection – and at the end of the cycle comes rebirth into new and quite differing lives. This cycle repeats and repeats. That sort of cyclical nature becomes apparent in the song structuring from track to track. Through the duration of the album, movements transition from abrasive to more melodic ethereal moments, right back into the abrasive. However, when a riff gets reintroduced into a different part of the composition, it is mutated and changes the sound. It’s never quite the same.
Who/what inspires your music? We imagine there’s sci-fi books, films etc. that inspire your work as well as the music you take influence from.
Aside from the Kim Stanley Robinson series noted earlier we gain inspiration from other authors, films, music and a slew of other things. The sources are not specifically limited to the realm of science fiction, but a lot of our influence is driven by it. I personally have been inspired by the works of Ursula K. Le Guin and am moved by her concepts of gender and time in both of her books The Left Hand Of Darkness and Lathe Of Heaven. She was immensely ahead of her time and it’s fascinating to see how science fiction concepts are projections of societal issues and how they may change or grow with vast amounts of time.
Sci-fi has always taken influence from the real world, but we’re in a weird time now where certain science fiction themes that were once far off and almost fantastical are now something we’re all conscious about for the near future (AI, for example). Do you think this has changed the way we perceive sci-fi as a genre of storytelling, and if so, do you think that’s impacted how Iterations Of Time turned out?
For me, it has not changed the way I have perceived the genre of science fiction. Even with all of our advancements there is always more to know, more to explore and more to learn. Science fiction works that were written four or five decades ago will be vastly different than the science fiction that gets written today. Chalk it up to technological advancements, politics, human growth or big societal changes, science fiction has been a creative way to reimagine our realities into a story. A fiction of how these issues will grow and what will become of them when pushed to their extremes.
For instance, Ursula K. Le Guin tested the structure of gender in Left Hand Of Darkness by incorporating a genderless planet. She wrote about this back in 1969. More recently we have had many societal shifts with gender where we are changing our vocabularies to be more gender neutral when addressing individuals, and there are options to be recognised as non-binary in many states here in the US on government identification documents. There’s still a lot of work to be done and I think these sorts of societal shifts never stop changing, but Le Guin lived to see this societal shift happen and I think that is powerful. I think all of the changes that time brings as it passes is a constant stream of inspiration, and I believe in that sense it is responsible for how Iterations Of Time culminated.
You’ve had to navigate some lineup changes in the past few years. How difficult was it to deal with those changes whilst still trying to write and record? Do you think they’ve had an impact on your creative output?
Surprisingly with all of the changes during the writing and recording of Iterations Of Time, the process was uncannily seamless. Our drummer Eric Andersen expressed interest in playing to replace our prior drummer JJ Anselmi. JJ had just moved to California and we were without a drummer for no more than a month or two, and Eric was a perfect fit stylistically and personally. It was all pretty effortless and gelled as well as we could have hoped for. As for the impact of lineup changes on the music, the end result took a longer process than anticipated but everyone that had a hand in making this album has left their footprint on the album.
The current situation has obviously hindered many plans, but what can we expect from Former Worlds going forward?
Like the case for all of us musicians, live performance and touring is not a current option and we are not making any plans for that in the interim. As for writing and recording, we are hard at work on a second LP and have been demoing new material during the stay-at-home orders and bouncing recordings back and forth to each other. We’ve made some great headway on the new album and expect to have things finished sooner than expected. It will be a great feeling to come out of this pandemic and experience all of the new music that will be released. We will be looking forward to performing some of our own contributions when the time comes.
Iterations Of Time is out now. Check it out here.
Words: George Parr