Serpent Throne Lead with the Leads on White Summer/Black Winter

One listen to the conscious “War Pigs” reference that caps off “Controlled by Lunar Forces” on White Summer/Black Winter (Translation Loss) and it’s all too obvious that Philadelphia instrumentalists Serpent Throne know full-well what they’re doing. Their third album overall following last year’s The Battle of Old Crow, White Summer/Black Winter is not only a continuation of the four-piece’s fetish for vinyl-ready ‘70s-style LP artwork, but is also a tour de force of classic rock, dropping riff-led nods like the above-mentioned with ease while integrating them seamlessly into the sans-vocal Serpent Throne sound. The pace varies throughout, if not the approach, and though they never quite hit the same kind of unhinged bluesy playfulness as the first Cactus record or the same cowbell-ly vibe of some of their Mountain climbing earlier work – their strengths more evident here in the Iommi-driven “Riff Forest” – they pull off an individualized sound within a well-established aesthetic.

That’s thanks largely to the guitar work of Demian Fenton and Don Argott, who trade leads fluidly throughout White Summer/Black Winter without ever losing sight of the groove thanks to the stalwart efforts of rhythm section Colin Smith (bass) and Sean-Paul Fenton (drums). The percussive Fenton and Smith make a highlight out of a break on the six-minute “Pagan Eclipse,” showing some versatility from the straightforward rocking earlier into White Summer/Black Winter, as on opener “Headed for an Unmarked Grave” or the extended and stylized title track which immediately follows it. Acoustic guitar work blends well among the electric leads, which are prevalent enough so that I don’t find myself pining for vocals or feeling like they should be somewhere they aren’t. That’s a double-edged sword, though, because it makes a song like “March of the Druids” busier than it might need to be – at least until the cymbal-wash/percussion break that presumably represents when the titular march is taking place – but is also one of Serpent Throne’s greatest strengths. If those leads weren’t there, they’d be missed.

A track like the later “Four Winds” demonstrates the natural flow running throughout White Summer/Black Winter, both between the nine component songs and within them. Serpent Throne’s tempo changes, even when the music drops to one or two instruments, are natural, and that’s essential for this kind of heavy classicism, since the vibe the two Fentons, Argott and Smith are trying to capture is warm, analog and reliant on the personality of the players. They give a good showing of that on “Four Winds,” allowing Fenton a drum solo that, were this actually the 1970s, would probably be at least three minutes longer, before the guitars and bass kick back in. Anyone who’s never experienced Serpent Throne either live or on record should know there’s a lot of Black Sabbath in what they do, but their sound is complex enough (more Sabotage than Master of Reality) to hold the interest of the discerning doomer for most of White Summer/Black Winter’s 45-minute duration. Just because it’s familiar doesn’t mean it’s not good.

A mellotron sound (whether from an actual mellotron or a synth, I don’t know) that made an appearance on “Pagan Eclipse” shows up two cuts later coupled with soothing guitar and soft tom hits on “Mushroom Cloud,” which acts as the first half of the closing duo and the lead-in for “Last Spark of the Sun.” Aside from acting as a suitable summary for White Summer/Black Winter, “Last Spark of the Sun” also has the album’s slowest riff as the intro from which the song builds, and some of Serpent Throne’s most pleasing leads. The course of the band’s other two albums seems to have been leading to this kind of confident performance from the six-string Fenton and Argott, and if that’s the case, it was worth the two-album wait to get to White Summer/Black Winter. They probably won’t blow minds when it comes to assessing their originality, but Serpent Throne’s music is more about homage than stylistic revolution, and their songs are molten with retro heat but not at all boring or redundant.

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Translation Loss

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One Response to “Serpent Throne Lead with the Leads on White Summer/Black Winter

  1. Paul G says:

    What an amazing album!!!

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