When New York doom trio Unearthly Trance pulled the plug in July 2012 after 12 years as a band, it wasn’t so much a death as a rebirth: The self-titled full-length debut by Serpentine Path features all three members of that group along with Ramsses guitarist Tim Bagshaw, who earned his stripes as the original bassist of British gloomlords Electric Wizard. The chemistry among the four is strong and Serpentine Path is packed with the requisite trudging tempos, stomping beats, down tuned riffs, repetitive rhythms and feral death metal howls that made Unearthly Trance an unsettling treat. Even so, there are a few sonic frills between Serpentine Path‘s unrelenting showers of sludge.
“Arrows” opens with a megaphone reading from “The Book of Revelations” that should be familiar to Iron Maiden fans and conspiracy theorists alike, “Beyond the Dawn of Time” starts with a quote from the trailer for the original “The Last House on the Left” and “Bats Amongst Heathens” ends with the echoing sounds of squealing beasts descending upon unwary prey. But most of Serpentine Path is stark and barren, delivering the most impact with the fewest number of notes. It’s not a quantum leap from Unearthly Trance and the tones are reminiscent of Rammses; other key reference points are Sleep, Winter (whose guitarist Stephen Flam recently joined the band) and early Earth.
Unlike many doom bands, Serpentine Path don’t want to depress or enervate. Their goals are even more sinister: Even when their droning guitars and sledgehammer beats border on psychedelic, it’s a bleak, agonizing type of transcendence that’s as unpleasant as it is compelling. There’s nothing “pretty” about the apocalyptic guitar harmonies of “Only a Monolith Remains,” the sparse tight-fisted punches and sepulchral growls of “Compendium of Suffering” or the decayed riffs of “Crotalus Horridus Horridus.” Then again underground metal has always thrived on self-abuse and futility.
For those who relish ugly, nightmarish and merciless doom, Serpentine Path is a welcome sonic ritual of demise – kind of like being buried neck-deep in the beach sand for 45 minutes and watching the tide come in.