Heaven Torn Low: A conversation with Aerial Ruin
Amidst all the chaos and heaviness that so often surrounds and characterizes the underground metal scene, sometimes all you want is pure sonic clarity and calmness. And someone that is always at the ready to provide us with such simple brilliance is Erik Moggridge, a man who forges dark folk sonorities via his own acoustic solo project Aerial Ruin. Over the years, Erik has released a lot of melancholic and emotionally-driven albums records as Valleys of the Earth, Nameless Sun and the more recent split with Panopticon. But that’s not all he has done. Ever since the band’s inception, Erik has joined Bell Witch in all three of their full-length records, performing in songs such as “Rows (of Endless Waves)” and “Suffocation, a Drowning: II – Somniloquy (The Distance of Forever)”, as well as in the entirety of the absolutely epic Mirror Reaper record.
With such a creative bond having been created between Aerial Ruin and Bell Witch, it was only natural that they would eventually collaborate on a fully-fledged record, one that would be called Stygian Bough and that would be released to tremendous appraise during the Summer of 2020. We recently had the chance to chat with Erik Moggridge for a little bit about his musical upbringing and the Stygian Bough collaboration with Bell Witch, as well as his upcoming Aerial Ruin records and the forthcoming European tour with Wolves In The Throne Room.
What was your first contact with music in general and what made you want to play this particular genre?
I played metal for a long time before I got into doing the acoustic stuff with Aerial Ruin. I was in a band starting in the mid-90s called Old Grandad, which has existed on and off since then, and just recently, we reunited and put out our first album in nineteen years, in 2019. That’s a San Francisco based band, where I spent most of my live but back then, when we were doing it, I was sort of slowly developing my melodic singing voice. We were a metal/rock band with a wide variety of sounds and we would all do vocals – sometimes I would scream and sometimes I would try to sing. I would write a lot of different types of stuff but a subset of the material I would bring to the band was kind of a more psychedelic, Pink Floyd sort of influence. I was developing my melodic vocal style and it was always a real challenge to sing these soft, kind of ethereal vocals over this massively loud metal band, so it felt natural for me to try to do something more personal and more introvert from a purely dynamic level, so that I didn’t have to compete with all that volume.
The second thing was just going through very intense spiritual experiences centered around a pivotal point in my life. I was doing a lot of psychedelic drugs and I had a spiritual awakening of sorts, coupled with a very intense and dark period of my life that also had a lot of positive spiritual realizations mixed in there with some of the more problematic things. So, it was a combination of wanting to do something dynamically easier and also needing to have a more introvert outlet, which was the opposite of being in a metal/rock band.
“It was always a real challenge to sing these soft, kind of ethereal vocals over this massively loud metal band, so it felt natural for me to try to do something more personal and more introvert from a purely dynamic level.”
Before the Stygian Bough collaboration, you played in all of Bell Witch’s full-length records. How did you first meet the band and how did you end up doing guest vocals in their records?
The first time Aerial Ruin toured was in 2009. That was when I was still living in San Francisco and I did a tour up the West Coast with my friend Eric Peterson [of Lost Goat] playing second guitar. We did two shows in Seattle and that’s where I met Dylan [Desmond] through our friends in a band called Grey, who were hosting us. I had a copy of my first EP, which precedes all the full-lengths and wasn’t properly released, and I just randomly gave it to Dylan. And then, I saw him later before leaving Seattle on the next day and he said he really liked it. He was in a band called Samothrace at the time – a great band, which still sort of exists, I think -, and they came down about a year later, they played in Portland and I had just moved there, so I went to see them play. I gave him a copy of Valleys of the Earth, my first full-length, before it was released and then he wrote to me and told me he really loved it. And then, I think I ran into him at a Neurosis show, maybe shortly after that, and we were just sort of casually talking and he was saying he was starting a new two-piece band with his friend Adrian [Guerra], and I sort of said, well, if you ever want a guest vocalist and he said, yeah, that would be great. Around that same time, I met Adrian when he was playing with his band Sod Hauler. Soon after that, we started working on the song “Rows (of Endless Waves)” and we actually performed it live a bunch of times before Bell Witch’s first album came out and before we even recorded it, when they were a really small band.
Was it a challenge for you going back into a much heavier setting after being involved in an acoustic one?
You know, it really wasn’t. It was actually really natural and I think that speaks to the parallels between Dylan’s writing style and my own. The beautiful melodic part on “Rows (of Endless Waves)” really works well with my voice and I think he knew that. That whole part is very easy and quiet to sing over, it was very natural, and when it goes into the heavier part of the song, where I’m still singing but singing much louder, I just came up with that vocal melody instantaneously. We were playing it for the first time in the rehearsal studio and Dylan and Adrian just looked at each other and were just like, yeah! [laughs] We were all so stoked. It was always very natural. I mean, sometimes, if you are rehearsing with a small PA and you have to sing above Bell Witch, that can be a technical challenge, but for recording and any time we performed, it was always very natural and we had loud enough equipment to deal with it.
How was the creative process behind Stygian Bough, what was the main goal you wanted to achieve with the collaboration?
By the time we got to Mirror Reaper, I was starting to make a bigger contribution. Like, I made a much bigger contribution on that album than I did in the first two, so I think it was only natural to take it even further. We were original going to do a split where we would cover each other’s songs – I was going to do an acoustic version of “Bails (of Flesh)” from Longing, which I didn’t sing on but I’d somehow rework it as an Aerial Ruin song, and Bell Witch was going to do Aerial Ruin songs in their form. That was a fun idea but then Dylan just said, let’s dump that idea and do a collaboration album instead, and me and Jesse [Shreibman] were both really into that.
First, we were going to do an acoustic album. We were inspired by the acoustic Ulver record, Kveldssanger, which is a brilliant record, but then, I started thinking that I really wanted to be able to do some of the loud Bell Witch stuff and sing over that since I had such a good time doing that on the other records, and so, it just naturally took off from there. I would demo stuff and send it to Dylan, he would send me tapes with a bunch of riffs on it, and we would spend huge amounts of time in the rehearsal studio with a massive dry erase board, reworking arrangements and trying out different things and seeing where the electric guitar would fit in the heavy sections and then how they would accompany the quiet and more Aerial Ruin-y stuff. It was great and it took a long time to get to where it was, and I think it will be greater in the second album.
The record was produced by Randall Dunn, how was it working with him and what do you feel he brings to the table in terms of recording and production?
Randall is a very talented guy. I do think that we didn’t have enough time though and honestly, I’m looking forward to doing the next album where I think we can get better results just from having more time in the studio to sort of experiment with stuff. I don’t think that, when the time was scheduled, they realized how much stuff we were doing. It was a very long album with all these different instrumentations, which was a lot more to do than was initially imagined by the people who were setting up the recording sessions.
The artwork of Stygian Bough was created by Adam Burke (Nightjar Illustration). When choosing the artwork for this record, did you develop the idea from existing pieces that Burke had or did you commission the work?
We kind of brainstormed ideas ourselves and then we told them to Adam, and as he was getting deeper and deeper into doing a painting, we asked him to make little adjustments and he was very great accommodating that. He had done a bunch of sketches up until that point and in fact, do you want to see this hilarious sketch that I have of the idea? [Erik then showed me a rough sketch of what would eventually be the final artwork of Stygian Bough]
Was this Burke’s sketch of the artwork or your own sketch?
It is my sketch; this is what we sent to Adam after we consulted amongst each other. Jesse had done a different sketch that was kind of the same idea but looked a bit different, and I just thought, yeah, I’m just going to tell Adam that we were going to go with my idea for the final cover instead because I did such a good job at sketching it out. [laughs] I’m sure Adam could’ve come up with amazing ideas by himself, but our concept worked out and he was great bringing it to life. He is such an amazing artist, I love all of his stuff, it’s so great.
“I started thinking that I really wanted to be able to do some of the loud Bell Witch stuff and sing over that since I had such a good time doing that on the other records, and so, it just naturally took off from there.”
Earlier you mentioned you were going to do a second volume of Stygian Bough. Do you already have an idea of what you want to do next?
Yeah, we have some material. Like, I made a demo of about 20 minutes worth of material – that was probably about a year ago, actually -, and the guys really liked it. There’s still lots of other riffs we kind of have floating around that didn’t make it onto the last album, but with the pandemic and everyone working on different projects, we haven’t gotten together in the same room to work on stuff yet. I think that sometime this year, probably in the next six months, I’ll start going up there again and rehearsing with them, and we’ll start writing it. I don’t know when it will be recorded or released, I imagine long after we actually get to tour with volume one, but I’m really looking forward to doing that because I think it’s going to be a lot better than the first one, even though I’m very proud of the first one.
Are there other artists you would like to collaborate with in the future as Aerial Ruin?
I have so many talented musician friends, so there are a lot of good opportunities there, but I’m also really good at just working on music by myself and I haven’t really played with all that many different people. Over many decades, I’ve only collaborated with a small handful of people because I guess that’s where my comfort level is. But I did on the upcoming Aerial Ruin album, which is almost done now, my friend Andrea Morgan [of the band Exulansis], she played some amazing violin accompaniments on a 21-and-a-half-minute song, it takes up half of the new album. So, that is a new collaboration that is already happening and I’m really excited for people to hear what we did together.
I was actually going to ask you about your upcoming solo record. I read you were going to release two records, or is it just one?
It’s going to be two but I’m almost done with the first one and the second one, I have three songs recorded already and a bunch of other songs demoed. But now I know what’s going to be on the first album and the mixes for those are very close to being final mixes, I might have the mastered version of that album within a month or so. I’m really excited about that, it’s pretty epic.
Are both records going to be released this year?
The first one will definitely be released this year. My guess is maybe over the Summer, but I haven’t figured out all the details of how that will be. I think it would be nice if they were maybe released six months apart, so the second one would come out in January 2022 or something like that, and they could be this sort of twin albums thematically. But since the second album has so much more work to be done, who knows what’s going to happen. I could get deeper and deeper into it, it could be delayed and come up later than that, so we’ll have to see. But yeah, as soon as I figure out how the first one is going to be released, then it would be coming out once the actual physical copies can be made, but it will be a few months between the completion and that happening.
Later this year, you and Bell Witch will be on tour with Wolves In The Throne Room and Blood Incantation. What are you most excited about this tour? Considering the current pandemic, do you think it will happen?
I’m cautiously optimistic that it will happen but, of course, we don’t really know. It seems that, with the vaccine rollout, if the majority of people can get vaccinated in Europe and the US by Summer or early Fall, and with this tour being in October and November, it could happen. But we just don’t know how that’s going to go, we got our fingers crossed and I think that if it doesn’t happen, I would hope that maybe it could be rescheduled for early 2022. We’re going to want to tour with Stygian Bough regardless of when it happens and as soon as possible. There has been talk about Bell Witch or Stygian Bough doing something with Wolves In The Throne Room for a while now and so, I think that they would want to do it with us again. And the fact that Blood Incantation is on the tour is great too as they are fucking amazing as well.
So yeah, I’m cautiously optimistic. If it doesn’t happen, hopefully it will soon after and as far as the tour itself, I’m incredibly excited. The routing, the lineup and being able to perform this stuff live for the first time, it’s all just so exciting, and having been denied the ability to perform and gather with people and see other bands, it’s going to be such a wonderful release in so many different ways.
As a final question, what are some of the artists and bands you have been listening to lately?
I have really been enjoying Lankum, especially their newest album, The Livelong Day, it’s just a fucking beautiful record, but all of their albums are really good. Blackbird Raum, a folk punk band, I always liked them when I’d hear them but I never got into their discography until this year. In the early days of the pandemic, I was listening to them a lot. The new Sangre de Muerdago album is really good and there is a band from Portland called Drouth, they are sort of black/death metal band, their new album is really excellent and just came out the other day. The newest Panopticon album is not out yet but I’ve been listening to that a lot and I actually did a guest vocal on one of the songs.
I’ve also been listening to Deathspell Omega, Exulansis, Shape of Despair, Krallice, Dreadnought from Denver, The Devil’s Blood, Blut Aus Nord, Skyeater, Zhrine, Hammers of Misfortune and Townes Van Zandt, among others. Also enjoyed revisiting the Cliff Burton-era Metallica albums and classic Iron Maiden, plus spending time with the more recent Maiden releases, which I have only heard in passing until recently.
“The routing, the lineup and being able to perform this stuff live for the first time,
it’s all just so exciting, (…) it’s going to be such a wonderful release in so many different ways.”
Interview by Filipe Silva
Photo by Lauren Lamp, courtesy of Aerial Ruin