Once they figured out what they wanted to be as a band, Unearthly Trance only got heavier, so that the debut full-length from Serpentine Path — which unites that trio’s final lineup with guitarist Tim Bagshaw, formerly of Ramesses and Electric Wizard — should be darker and more extreme in its doomly ways isn’t so much a surprise as it is a natural evolution. Add to that vocalist Ryan Lipynsky‘s ongoing tenure in black metal progressives The Howling Wind and it makes even more sense, though Serpentine Path have little in common either with Lipynsky‘s other outfit or with Unearthly Trance. Some of Ramesses‘ death-doomiest moments might be recognizable in the eight-track/42-minute self-titled, but there’s little to none of the cultish psychedelia that offset such dirge marching in that band. With Serpentine Path, it’s pretty much all bludgeon.
The album was released last fall on Relapse and met with as positive a response as something so unabashedly negative can, and since it came out, Bagshaw (who wrote the music on the debut) has reportedly relocated to New Jersey from the UK and Winter guitarist Stephen Flam has joined as well, making the band a five-piece rounded out by bassist Jay Newman and drummer Darren Verni. I just recently came into contact with Serpentine Path courtesy of Flam, who was interviewed here a while back (if you didn’t read it, you should, it’s awesome), and having spent some time with the record, as usual, I a little bit regret not checking out it sooner. The drawn-out stomp of “Crotalus Horridus Horridus” and the ’90s-style leads infecting “Obsoletion” are a death-doomer’s missing link, and the purposeful unipolarity in Lipynsky‘s vocals there and elsewhere throughout the album only makes the band’s intentions clearer.
Bagshaw‘s guitar even on a shorter track like “Bats Amongst Heathens” — easy to hear a Winter influence there — crafts an abyss of tone, and as they’re no strangers to slow, lurching rhythms, Newman and Verni work well in walking the line between snail’s pace grooving and unhinged immobility. Periodic samples like that at the beginning of “Beyond the Dawn of Time” don’t so much ground the material as add to the chaos, and a song like the later “Compendium of Suffering” is given even more weirdness in its break for the vague spoken echoes playing out over the unceasing plod of the verse riff. I guess if you want the short version, Serpentine Path are seriously fucking heavy and seriously grim. They don’t stray from that modus throughout these tracks, but they don’t really need to either, since the more oppressive a song gets, the more it’s doing its job. They win no matter what.
Closer “Only a Monolith Remains” seems to have been the inspiration for the artwork as well, which seems to be nodding at Hellhammer on the front cover while on the back a sort of Cthulhu-meets-the-Pradator monolith plays host to the tracklist. The inside of the liner has snake scales embossed onto the paper, as do the lyrics, and the tray under the CD also has an embossed ouroboros, so clearly somebody was putting effort into the aesthetic from the ground up. Not the first time I’ve given Relapse‘s Orion Landau kudos and it probably won’t be the last. One way or another, Serpentine Path‘s Serpentine Path is a record I’m glad I got to check out, since given the changes in the band they’re not likely to repeat themselves next time around.