(Andy Synn reviews the debut album by Russia’s Sarpentra, which is out now.)
Hyperbole is a funny old thing. On the one hand it’s kind of fun to engage in, particularly if done so in a knowing, wink-wink, nudge-nudge, kind of manner. We love this music, so why not go all out? It’s an extreme genre, so let’s go wild!
But, on the other, when misused it definitely has a tendency to be more than a little misleading and to set up unreasonable expectations (something which I’ve been accused of myself only recently).
To wit, one of the reasons I elected to review Supernova was to try to counter some of the hype I’ve seen being thrown around, with words like “genre-redefining” and “revolutionary” being bandied about as if they were going out of style.
So I suppose what I really want to do with this review is to encourage you to take this album on its own merits, and not as if it’s the second coming of [Insert Famous Band Here]. Heck, if you really want to you can just scroll down to the bottom and listen yourselves, without taking any account of what I’ve written.
But for those of you who maybe want a little more context to inform your listening, or who simply enjoy reading articles about killer Death Metal albums… read on!
Before we go any further though, let me stress that Supernova is a great album. It really is. From the moment “Iron Nails Run In” hammers down upon you like the veritable wrath of the gods, to the final majestic chords of grandiose closer “Prometheus Unbound”, the album subjects the listener to an almost unrelenting onslaught of scorched-earth riffage, warp-speed drum work, and utterly ferocious vocals that barely offers a moment of rest or respite.
Along the way the band shamelessly indulge their particular taste for whirling tremolo runs and lightning-fast solos, bending and stretching the line between dazzling technicality and fluid, Middle Eastern melody, along with some brilliantly atmospheric touches of synthesised orchestration.
It really is a hell of a ride.
Still, for better or for worse, it’s not the most original sound out there, which makes some of the more hyperbolic claims made about this record a little harder to stomach. In fact, it’s an album built firmly in the mold of recent Hour of Penance, along with very strong hints of Demigod/The Apostasy-era Behemoth.
But here’s the thing – despite the fact that I love discovering new and interesting music, I’m not one of those people who insists that everything I listen to must be something completely ground-breaking and totally original. Though I don’t like bands who are shamelessly and insipidly derivative of others, at the same time I understand that not every band can be [Insert Innovator] and, as a matter of fact, not every band needs to be. Indeed, for me one of the joys of music is hearing a band take an established sound and put their own spin on it, large or small, and really imbue it with their own personality.
And that’s exactly what Sarpentra have done here.
Songs like the rampaging “Splendor Solis” – with its rolling war-drums and densely atmospheric mid-section — or the sub-three minute “Odium (The Temple of the Sacred False)” – with its frankly blistering solo work and intelligent use of esoteric melody – show the band capable of delivering a short, sharp, shock to the system without sacrificing nuance or character along the way, whilst longer, more drawn-out numbers such as “Sempiternal” and the title track take full advantage of their extended run-times to blend monstrous riffage and pulverising drums with a sense of monolithic atmosphere and a restrained application of symphonic embellishments to paint a bigger, bolder picture.
Couple all that with the stunning solo work and blazing melodic/symphonic hooks that run through “I Set the World on Fire” and (my personal favourite) “The War Anthem” – along with a handful of evocative interlude pieces – and you end up with an album that’s incredibly focussed on simply being the best there is at what it does.
So there you have it. Behemoth. Hate Eternal. Hour of Penance. Melechesh. These are all valid comparisons that we can make when listening to Supernova. And we shouldn’t be afraid to make them. The fact that it’s not a totally unique snowflake doesn’t make the album any less thrilling, any less punishing, any less ball-breakingly, spine-crushingly heavy after all, and there’s no shame in my eyes in being compared so favourably with so many legendary names.
So let’s just call it like it is. Supernova is a fantastically brutal, pulverisingly technical, and shamelessly grandiose spectacle of a Death Metal album.
And, really, do I need to say anything more than that?