SERPENT OMEGA – Serpent Omega
aaamusic | On 22, Apr 2013
Rumbling from the speakers like a juggernaut of caustic immensity, Serpent Omega’s self-titled LP shakes up the tropes of blackened doom metal, by taking the ferocity of black metal and the heaviness of doom, rather than the slowness. The result? An album that is just as brooding, just as bleak, just as powerful, and with a pounding sense of perverse vitality that adds that extra layer of malevolence and fascination to an album that hits the listener with the churning, measured, irresistible motion of the tidal shifts of an apocalyptic shoreline.
Opener ‘Skullwand’ boasts a swaying, mesmeric riff that’s just as much stoner rock as anything, with a lolloping tempo and sense of instant momentum given to it by the subtly energetic drumming and relentless bass presence that underlays guttural, heavily-distorted guitars as the band gracefully lurch like a Xenomorph between riffs and a simple yet well-executed breakdown that leads to a whipcrack tempo increase, and the main riff reprisal comes back with an extra treble-toned snarl to it, building and building the atmosphere before a black metal-styled ending closes the track with ferocious intensity. ‘Smoke Ritual’, as the name suggests, is a less punchy track, relying instead on sparseness of dynamics and a creeping, ominous atmosphere to sustain its eight-minute running time. Although it is long and slow, with a full and thick guitar tone and few times where the texture of the song is truly stripped back however, there is something unsettlingly hollow about the track, possibly due to the slowness, the notes sustained like concrete being dragged up a barren mountain, or due to the black metal aural aesthetics: the growling vocals echo from afar, and there is something in the guitar tone that is holds closer to black metal than the doom that the rest of the song’s sound seems to nod to. Moments of harmonised guitars and tremolo buildups add variation and structure to the track, and the whole thing flows seamlessly with the odd time signature change thrown in to prevent listeners from growing too complacent, with the sinister triple-time build coming to dominate the song as it mounts to truly unsettling, mesmeric power. Petering out to the first riff briefly, there is a pseudo-segue into ‘Hammer’, which opens with a minute of quiet atmospheric hush before exploding into a mass of churning riffs and surging cymbals, elements of hardcore noticeable in the ceaseless snare-driven percussion attack and chugging guitars, yet the string bends and fuzzed-out distortion speak of sped-up stoner rock, and the unique vocal sound, stripped somewhat of its echo, barks and roars the lyrics with a commanding presence that stands out despite the tight and fearsome attack of the instruments. The song slows to a halt, yet does not fizzle out, ending on a strong riff.
The B-side opener ‘Warmachine’ echoes this riff, providing a nice continuity that shows the LP A-side/B-side transition has been thought of by the band, although this time the ante is raised by Serpent Omega, as the track moves from riff to chugging stomp to a jaw-dropping percussive display as the drummer keeps a surging, attacking, roll of sound while never sounding superfluous as he uses each piece of the kit to great effect. The guitars too stretch themselves here, developing the riffs as they are revisited, breaking them up with new sections of hypnotic buildups, culminating in a cathartic, chilling chord-melody and heady mix of groove and squall. The chugging heaviness of ‘Red Sun’ recycles elements of ‘Skullwand’ in the riff, but the insertion of a ferocious double-time section and a bass drum-led midsection means that repetition is avoided in favour of an unsettling sense of déjà vu when listening, not so much hypnotic as a feeling of being haunted, which is hard to do with a subtly groove-heavy and fast track.
‘Serpent Omen’ is almost a curveball as its riff style is notably more overtly melodic, leaning outside the extreme metal bracket towards more NWOBHM or even punk rock despite the echo-shadowed vocals and seething percussion. The bass break too, is unexpected, as the track swerves into brutal breakneck territory for its finale. Rising from its ashes is the cavernous bass rumble of ‘Konflux’, which has a thudding, minimal drum style and controlled sense of mounting dread that is almost cinematic in its gradual accumulation and revelation of power. Perfectly paced for maximum effect, it trudges with a monstrous poise and sense of purpose. The two-and-a-half-minute mark drops the heaviness for a moment of spine-chilling hollowness, the vocals coming to the fore of a skeletal instrumentation to resonate with an almost incantation-like solemnity before the doom-influenced riffing kicks back in. Swooping in and out with the natural might of the tides, these heavy sections are what close the song, with a grinding low-end roar that fades while prominent drums carry on in full, primal force even when the rest of the instruments have become little more that ghosts as the LP ends.
It’s been said that Sweden has some of the best metal output of the current era, and I’d be inclined to agree in light of ‘Serpent Omega’. It’s not obviously radical or groundbreaking, but then again the use of fast tempos and a stoner/black metal hybrid guitar tone, and the high levels of musicianship and songwriting, particularly in the manipulation of tone and texture, across the album, lead to a solid and entirely worthwhile LP that bridges many subgenres to create something truly atmospheric and blood-stirring.