A Pitiless, Lightless Dirge Most Foul
The esteemed status of the musicians that form Serpentine Path lends an instantaneous clout of credibility not often afforded to a band who has just released their full-length debut. Comprising the complete line-up of recently retired Unearthly Trance – Jay Newman, Darren Verni and Ryan Lipynsky – and former Electric Wizard bassist and current Ramesses guitarist Tim Bagshaw, Serpentine Path takes a much narrower, more animalistic approach than Unearthly Trance ever did. Over Unearthly Trance’s 12 year existence, this band was not adverse to experimentation, filling burning cavities of sludge/doom with hardcore, bleak atmospherics, drone, and the death-march of Celtic Frost. Serpentine Path consciously leaves such experimentation hanging, preferring to dwell in the harmful lacuna that exists between doom and death metal.
The rhythm section of Newman (bass) and Verni (drums) remains intact from the Unearthly Trance days, whereas Lipynsky – who also currently helms the highly regarded black metal duo the Howling Wind – leaves guitar duties in the laboured hands of Bagshaw, focusing exclusively on imbuing the molasses-thick grooves with his raw-boned vocals. It is a formation that lays its praise upon the death-doom of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and pulls at the genre’s roots with a bloody, single-minded intent. Shunning the blasting drums and carnivorous tactics of Autopsy, Incantation, and the rest of the bands who plunge death metal into the depths of doom, Serpentine Path’s death metal leanings mostly come in the form of Lipynsky’s mangled attempts at purging his own larynx. His performance may appear somewhat one dimensional, especially when considering the variety of voices he has used during his time in Thralldom, Unearthly Trance, and the Howling Wind, however, given the befouled music his vocals accompany, Lipynsky has clearly made the correct choice here.
Picking up where their self-titled seven-inch (released in February this year) left off, Serpentine Path is an album aware of listeners’ concentration spans and breaking points – coming in at a relatively fat-free 45 minutes. “Arrows” begins this torturous trudge, and this track moves with a purposeful pace, but remains capable of wrenching deep. A sample of a bellowing voice reciting an entertaining variation of a passage from “The Book of Revelations” gives way to rumbling, bass-heavy riffs and Verni’s crushing beats, that together heave and churn, driving the song onward to an emphatic ending. “Crotalus Horridus Horridus” (a track named after a medical term for a species of venomous pit-viper) follows, and it slithering arrangements, which cage a series of monstrous grooves and Lipynsky’s poisoned death growl, lives up to the title cast upon it.
“Bats Amongst Heathens” continues to build upon Bagshaw’s harrowing riffs, and given the languid tempos he is working with on this album, he shows great ability at keeping things interesting –something which have clearly been learnt from his days in seminal doom-overlords Electric Wizard and the equally misanthropic Ramesses. “Beyond the Dawn of Time”‘s intro-sample: “A look into the final, maddening space between life and death”, taken from the trailer to the horror classic “The Last House on the Left”, is a sly wink to Bagshaw’s past, and the song itself is funeral doom at its most soul-sucking, reminiscent of the sinister abyss that Esoteric are known to dwell in. Its inclusion is welcome, and although this album does contain such moments of draining funeral doom, the band are also mindful of song sequencing; interspersing tracks with more rhythmic upheaval amongst the more unforgiving doom sections. “Obsoletion” and “Aphelion” prove to be much more dynamic: squalling harmonies from Bagshaw’s guitar, Verni’s primal pounding and Newman’s dominant bass-lines, stomp all over “Obsoletion”. “Aphelion”, the album’s shortest and most vigorous track, shows this band are more than capable of moving with a marauding pace whenever they feel the urge, and its change in tempo keeps things engaging.
Serpentine Path also have a shrewd tendency to name songs in line with the feel of the music, and just like “Crotalus Horridus Horridus”, “Compendium of Suffering” and “Only a Monolith Remains” are both appropriately titled and continue to wallow in a mire of throttling doom-death. Serpentine Path reeks of seasoned musicians who know exactly where they want to take their sound, and more importantly, have the hard-earned grit to accomplish it. On this, their self-titled debut for Relapse, they show no interest in resting on the praise hoisted upon the significant past releases of its members – Dopethrone, Electrocution, Possessed by the Rise of Magick – and by creating this pitiless, lightless dirge most foul, this group of doom veterans have varied their debut enough so that it can only be judged on its own merits, free from the prior accomplishments of its members.