(Comrade Aleks brings us another interview, this time with guitarist (and visual artist) Roland Scriver of the UK doom band Serpent Venom — with a stream of the band’s latest album at the end.)
Serpent Venom is one of UK doom-scene’s most perceptive flagships. Based in London, they have a contract with one of the best modern doom-oriented labels The Church Within and two full-length records at hands. Their second album Of Things Seen And Unseen has haunted me since its very release, so after one year of nightmares, I got ready to interview some of the Serpent Venom cult’s members and was lucky enough to get in touch with Roland Scriver (guitars). Roland is here today, so let’s see what he has to say.
Hello Roland! How are you there? Is London covered with fog as in some old scary movie?
All is well. Unusually for London it’s hot and sunny, perfect for some beers outside.
Serpent Venom released their second album Of Things Seen And Unseen only a year ago with the help of Church Within Records. Has something new happened in the band’s life since then?
The last year has been quieter than intended due to a few real-life personal matters going on in our lives that took time away from rehearsals and shows and made us decline some opportunities. We did get to do shows with Pentagram, Saint Vitus, Orange Goblin, Jex Thoth, and Trouble, all of which were an absolute honour to do, so it ain’t all bad.
We are writing new material with a view to maybe doing an EP as well as a new album, we will see how things progress. There are other things in the pipeline too.
Can you share more details of your progress with new songs?
It’s too early to say. We have a bunch of new riffs and a few solid progressions. We have been stockpiling ideas for a while and are working through possibilities. I could tease working song titles but someone might nick them and anyway it’s all subject to change.
I read that you planned a split-album with Orchid. Will it ever happen?
Did we? A single maybe. It was probably discussed over beer. They are great guys and we really get on well, but I think a split is unlikely, especially with us now being on different labels.
Yes, Orchid are with Nuclear Blast now, and isn’t that a good omen for the doom scene? And is there any sense in making doom a popular genre? Though it sounds utopian…
Good bands on bigger labels is a good thing. But scenes grow and then diminish in popularity. Popularity is a great thing at the time, but it doesn’t make better music and it won’t last.
Of Things Seen And Unseen was mostly welcomed warmly by fans. How do you see its most attractive sides, as there’s a lot of doom bands around nowadays?
I am glad Of Things Seen And Unseen was accepted by fans of the first record. We expected a few more people to reject the new line-up of the band after Pete’s departure. The fact is, we tried to acknowledge what Carnal Altar was about within the vibe of the new record whilst moving forward musically and trying to bring a greater variation in dynamics.
To be honest, we don’t feel that we need to justify what we do or our place in the genre, and I don’t feel that I have any right to explain what is good about the record. People who hear it can decide that for themselves. We respect our fans, but we can only do what we feel is being true to ourselves and can’t concern ourselves with other people’s perceptions.
Do you feel an urge to develop Serpent Venom’s sound and move further with future records or do you think that you have already found a proper sound for the band?
We do as we see fit. There is no master plan. We want to progress and develop and we are not going to repeat something we have already done. The sound we have itself will always resemble a dirty heavy guitar band, and even if we try to develop things, I’m sure it will still sound like the four of us.
We could say that some local doom scenes have their own features. For example, the Italian doom scene has a lot from its prig-legacy, just as the American one seems to tend to stoner-oriented stuff. What about the UK scene? You have a whole pleiad of new respectable doom bands today.
We are not sun-kissed Californians here in the UK. I think here in this country we are prone to be the product of our environment and things are darker for sure, but also I think we can find the positive in the melancholic here too. This is what I get from 40 Watt Sun, Undersmile, Conan, and Sigiriya.
Some people even say that “doom metal from the UK” is a kind of trademark. Well, that’s very close to truth. Do you feel a responsibility as you represent your country on the world doom scene?
No. If people think we are good at what we do, then great, but it won’t be because we are from a geographical location. My only sense of responsibility is to not be shit in front of a paying crowd.
It seems that the lyrics have changed with this album, as you step a bit further from “witchery’n’darkness” topics. Do you agree with that?
Gaz writes the lyrics and always has. I don’t think there has been any conscious decision to shift the lyrical focus, but I know that he still isn’t singing songs of happiness and joy. I think that as a band we have been aware that there are a lot of other bands doing this occult Hammer-horror thing and we were conscious of wanting to step away from it before it becomes part of an image. There are plenty of things to write about outside of witchery and darkness.
Does it mean that there’s no chance to hear stories of burning witches and satanic masses in the future? Don’t you feel an attraction to such topics?
Gaz has a book of lyric ideas written down. What they are really about only he truly knows. We can make guesses, but I think the ideas he has come together almost unconsciously. The occult references if they show up are usually metaphors for something else. If there is some witch burning in there next time then so be it.
What we won’t do is make references to black magic or something just purely for the sake of it because people expect it. There are some cool bands out there who do the witchy subject matter but we don’t want to get pulled into some occult doom genre label, although I think I prefer that to being called trad.
Serpent Venom “Sorrow’s Bastard”
At the same time, Serpent Venom’s new songs sound in the same orthodox way as on the Carnal Altar album, though it’s obvious that the band improved its skills at creating solid traditional doom tunes. What do you see as your professional achievement on Of Things Seen And Unseen?
I think we got closer to sounding how we wanted to sound individually and as a band on this record. Come to think of it, the achievement might belong to Chris Fielding at Skyhammer.
Well, it’s not a secret that some people still see doom metal as a pretty simple and less diverse genre. What’s your point of view on this supposition?
Doom is as diverse as any genre. Let’s be honest, genre terms get in the way of diversity. There are great bands with Doom in them who many wouldn’t consider to be Doom bands, if you know what I mean.
I bet that I’ve got your point. Roland, you’re an author of that astonishing art-work for Of Things Seen And Unseen. Do you draw art-works for other bands?
Is this where I shamelessly plug my business? Yes, I have worked for a number of bands and labels as either illustrator or graphic designer, including Orange Goblin, Spirit Caravan, Exile on Mainstream Records, Naevus, Zarboth, Conan, and Poseidon. You can hire me via rolandscriver.com or familiarink.bigcartel.com, where you can also buy art.
What are your top of the best doom metal art-works?
I’m not going to say the usual stuff and I will talk about artists more than bands. My favourite sleeves are the ones that make you pick up a record and want to buy it without having heard it. Anything the artist Maarten Donders does is gold. He has done stuff for Roadburn Festival and Blues Pills as well as a number of stoner and psyche bands.
Bismuth artist Tara Hill does great work. Craig Bryant from Bast is a fantastically talented illustrator, too. He did the cover for their record Spectres and has been creating show posters for years. I like the sleeves for both Monolord records, although I don’t know who did them, and the last Jex Thoth record had a great sleeve.
Roland, you tour a lot with some really great bands, and most of us still think touring is constant fun and busters. Is it true? Please don’t break all of our illusions with one strike!
I love touring. It can be rough sleeping in some venues and squats, but you are visiting places you never would otherwise and hopefully without spending the kind of money you would on a holiday. I have met brilliant people everywhere and seen beautiful things in nature traveling between shows, like alpine waterfalls and Slovenian forests. I have played shows to hundreds of people in some places and other nights to two old men and a deaf dog. I have tried the local beer in every town that has one and experienced the kindness of strangers who invite you to their home and feed you because of music. It’s all fun and brings a huge grin to my face every time. Touring is about gathering new stories. Just get me in the van.
So I need to ask about your plans for touring in 2015! When do you plan to hit the road again?
We will be playing one more show this year, Bloodcult Reformed, a tribute in honour of Paul Van Linden from Grimpen Mire which will be at The Rainbow venue in Birmingham on the 21st of November. Next year we plan to record and release a new record and play some shows in Europe. Promoters get in contact with the band directly for next spring please.
Do you see some certain goals ahead of you which you’d like to achieve with Serpent Venom as a professional musician or just as a person?
If one teenage kid picks up a shitty copy of a record I made in a second-hand store at any point in the future and thinks “this is awesome”, picks up a guitar or something else, forms a band and has the same amount of fun I have had making music, then I achieved something.
Serpent Venom – Pilgrims of Sun
What’s the best side of being in a traditional doom band like Serpent Venom?
We do Doom as we see fit, that is the best thing about Serpent Venom. I wouldn’t say we were trad Doom, I guess it’s Gaz’s vocal approach that makes people put us in that box. Trad insinuates that we will never do something outside of people’s current conception of that term, and we probably will.
Do you see any reason why doom has become more popular in the past few years? You know… it’s not confrontation with government, like in a punk scene, it’s mostly far from anticlerical stuff. Some may say that it’s an effective form of escapism…
Doom is not defined in the same way as it was 20 years ago. In the last 20 years a large number of genres have crossed over with each other to give us the current Doom and stoner rock scene. We have hard rock, doom, stoner, grunge, psyche, and prog all in the same record collections along with hardcore and heavy metal. I am not sure whether doom got popular or just became part of a fan share.
And I have a standard question: Do you remember the books that influenced you the most when you were in school?
When I was a kid I read every ancient mythology there was before I was 9 years old. Norse, Greek, Egyptian, Celtic, various Native American… it mostly served to make me realise that the Abrahamic myths were not really as well written.
Roland, you were a part of the band Sloth who had only one Voice of God album (2000). After that you were in the End Level Boss band. How long have you sharpened your skills as guitarist?
Either for not long enough or for too long.