Death-doom has experienced something of a revival recently, what with Autopsy back together and churning out putrid new records left and right, Cathedral recording what Lee Dorrian calls "the album I've been waiting to do since 'Forest Of Equilibrium'", Derkéta finally getting to release their long-overdue full-length, and the likes of Southern Lord reissuing the genre-defining classic album from Winter.
An unexpected turn of events was Relapse really getting behind the trend (though I hate to use that word), releasing the latest decrepit offering from Hooded Menace, as well as snapping up the next recordings from Coffins and Wolvserpent.
They also put out the debut self-titled album from what could arguably be termed death-doom's first 'supergroup' Serpentine Path. Supergroup is a term I hate to use, but when ex-Ramesses/Electric Wizard man Tim Bagshaw teams up with the members of the semi-defunct Unearthly Trance, then adds Winter's Stephen Flam as a second guitarist, how can you NOT elevate the resultant band to a higher status?
I'm pretty sure that barely made sense, so I'll just get on with discussing the record.
First off, that artwork is fucking great. A Lovecraftian nightmarescape rendered in gaseous greens, you can just about choke on the stench of decay looking too deeply into the funeral fog beyond.
Also, excellent use of spot varnish on the packaging, giving the writhing Shoggothian monolith on the front a sick gleam and glisten when you really look at it.
More bands should make an effort to satisfy print-process nerds.
The visuals match the audio perfectly, opening track 'Arrows' beginning with a spoken sample from Revelation 13, adding even more to the 'ancient evil' vibe created by the artwork.
And then the music crashes in. Unholy shit, is it heavy. I mean obviously it was going to be, but I don't think I was quite prepared for the hideous lurch of the opening riff, and the heavy-hitting wardrum rhythm.
When Ryan Lipynsky's vocals come in, they're backed by one of the horrible, sour-note guitar lines that Tim Bagshaw perfected in Ramesses, and I see how this band came together. They're perfect together, much more than the sum of their rotten parts.
A few minutes in the tempo slows and... is that the faint sound of an organ in the background?
Total Winter-worship. Fucking brilliant.
Second track 'Crotalus Horridus Horridus', named for a highly venomous species of pit viper which can be found in the vicinity of New York City (a very clever allusion to the band itself), is just as deadly as its namesake.
The funeral march of the main riff is augmented by the groaning of strings in the background, as Lipynsky spews an ode to 'venomous horror'.
'Bats Amongst Heathens' has a fucking brilliant opening riff. I tried to find a clever way to phrase it, but it's just fucking brilliant. There's more of the distant decrepit guitar lurking just behind the growl of the main riff again, a technique I am more than okay with hearing so much when its done so horribly well. Darren Verni's drums on this track have that gigantic crash cymbal sound that was one of my favourite things about Mark Greening's playing in Ramesses, it's great to hear it backing Bagshaw's riffs here.
Side A closes with 'Beyond The Dawn Of Time', a seven minute dirge dedicated to dark entities of a presumably Lovecraftian nature. This is the most straightforward doom track on the record, and it's an uncomfortable, unsettling listen. Not one for the headphones in a dark room, I'll tell you that.
Side B opens with 'Obsoletion', all straining, howling, aching guitar torture and martial drums before the whole thing breaks down in a clatter of cymbals. The oppressive atmosphere of fear continues throughout.
'Aphelion' is the track that reminds me most of Ramesses. The drums are more ramshackle and rattling here, the little moments of guitar weirdness recalling Ramesses' occasional forays into darkly psychedelic territory.
Penultimate track 'Compendium Of Suffering' is all twisted feedback and howls, the lyrics slightly more abstract than on the rest of the album, seeming to allude to the everyday horror we all endure as we submit to a societal system that continuously betrays and exploits the many for the gain of the few.
I might be reading too much into words like
"Throes of savage reality
Fodder for the fools
Marching off the cliff
Programmed to submit"
But I don't know, to me it seems pretty clear that Lipynsky is voicing a barely suppressed hatred we all feel for the constructs we find ourselves unable to rail against effectively. As someone who does all I can to be as 'off the grid' as possible (participation in the voluntary Big Brother that is the internet aside), the knowledge that no matter what you do or where you go, you are monitored, kept in check by a system you want no part of, is frustrating in the extreme.
Anyway, the song is great, and speaks from a more human perspective than the rest of the growls of cosmic and toxic evils.
'Only A Monolith Remains' has to be heard while staring at the album cover, the rotting, reptilian coils of the eponymous monolith an ideal accompaniment to the filthy tone of the track.
It's for this reason that nothing will ever replace holding a physical copy of an album in my hand as I listen to it. Poring over artwork, endlessly re-reading lyrics, imposing your own thoughts and meanings upon the songs as the sounds fill your skull... all of it is worth hunting down beautifully-presented packages like this.
Serpentine Path are one of those bands who offer a complete encompassing experience when it comes to songs, tone, words, artwork. It's albums like this that remind me of just how it should be done.
More like this please, Relapse Records.
You can get this record, or CD if that's your bag, directly from Relapse here:
And check out word on Serpentine Path direct from NYC's most venomous band here: