“In different hands this stuff could easily become tiresome – it’s a very limited palette they’re working from – but Serpentine Path add enough little twists and flourishes (an unexpected tempo shift here, a weirdly contorted chord there) to keep things interesting throughout.”
When New York/New Jersey doom metal trio Unearthly Trance called it a day this summer after more than a decade of increasingly morose musical output, the group’s members didn’t exactly part ways, instead pouring their energies into a new band they’d already begun some months before. But an evolution of their sound this new project, Serpentine Path, really isn’t; better to call it a devolution, in all the best senses of the term.
The rhythm section of Jay Newman and Darren Verni return to their respective spots on bass and drums while Ryan Lipynsky sticks to just vocals this time round, his place on guitar taken by Brit import Tim Bagshaw (ex Ramesses, Electric Wizard). The biggest shift, however, is in the music on their self-titled debut long player, mostly written by Bagshaw, that largely eschews the calculated studio polish and more sophisticated compositions of Unearthly Trance’s later output in favour of a rough-and-ready recording that imbues this eight-song set with a sense of live immediacy.
‘Arrows‘ kicks off proceedings with a sample of what sounds like a Hammer horror, a reading of and reaction to Revelation 13:18 (‘the number of the beast’) before the real heaviness comes crashing in. Fundamentally it’s a swinging boogie groove, but one that’s completely corrupted by demonically downtuned guitar, a speaker-bursting low end and Lipynsky’s ragged rasps. It’s immediately head-nodding, devil-sign-throwing stuff. Who cares what he’s singing about? The biggest impression here is of four dudes just jamming in a room. And they’re all the better for it.
Now that they’ve set the scene, Serpentine Path can get down to their resolutely old-school business. ‘Crotalus Horridus Horridus‘ comes more trad doom in approach, both in its slower, creeping pace and lyrical matter concerning the kind of snake you’d never like to find in your garden. The throwback references continue on ‘Bats Among Heathens‘ with its Tony Iommi signature chord vibrattos. And the BPM slows down even more for ‘Beyond the Dawn of Time‘, where the start-stop beat barely budges through the hazy gloom shrouded by a deceptively simple three-chord riff, a repeating mantra drenched in feedback.
The second half begins with the howling intro of ‘Obsoletion‘ which segues into a sheer quagmire of a song, marked by an inverted sounding verse riff that glides across the morass. ‘Aphelion‘ returns to the groovy framework of ‘Arrows’ for the shortest, most rock-out track of the set, while the massive sonic wall of ‘Compendium of Suffering‘ almost reprises the lumbering rhythm of ‘Beyond…’ in its driving repetition. And the six-and-a-half-minute closer ‘Only a Monolith Remains‘ is a shambling epic built around a hypnotising psych riff and culminating in an ominous hammer-on-anvil clatter.
In different hands this stuff could easily become tiresome – it’s a very limited palette they’re working from – but Serpentine Path add enough little twists and flourishes (an unexpected tempo shift here, a weirdly contorted chord there) to keep things interesting throughout. Moreover, the vivid, enveloping sound captured by Newman really puts you into the music rather than beside it, which makes all the difference. Added up, this record can be best described as if treacle was music: dark, viscous and fucking sweet.