The Croatian band Duskburn have latched on to a winning formula, but it’s an unusual and unusually gripping one, a kind of alchemical sorcery that combines disparate ingredients to produce powerful (and disturbing) effects on their listeners. Duskburn’s new album, which is the culmination of a decade-long stylistic evolution, is called Serpentide. It’s being released today as a digital download by Cimmerian Shade Recordings, with a tape release planned in the near future, and to help spread the word we’re premiering a full stream of the record today.
Duskburn first took shape in 2006, but the shape of their sound has changed over the course of a debut album in 2009 (Soldering the Seven Streams) and a quartet of EPs released from 2010 through 2013. Over those years, the band moved from an early manifestation of death metal in the direction of sludge and doom, but this new album embraces an even more atmospheric and much more mercilessly vicious take on what they created with their last EP. These are the colossal, high-intensity sounds of mortifying catastrophe.
Three years have passed since the band’s last release, due in part to the absence of a drummer, although the remaining members continued to work on new material while searching for a new percussionist. They found one… and he makes a striking impact on the new record, providing a key ingredient in that unusual formula referenced earlier.
What Serpentide provides over the course of six tracks and almost 40 minutes is a combination of powerfully head-moving rhythms and powerfully mind-fracturing guitar and vocal work. You won’t find much of the typical metal percussive fusillades here — only one brief eruption of blast-beats and almost no double-bass thunder (that I can remember) — but what you will find is an ingenious array of beats and fills that routinely get your head moving.
The very nimble bassist is very much a match for the drummer’s clever arrangements, and when the riffing also locks in with what they’re doing, it’s irresistible. Make no mistake, the rhythm section is capable of pounding your head into mush and delivering the sounds of a staggeringly brutal war zone, but most of the time, they just make you want to move.
On the other hand, everything else that’s happening around their machinations just makes you want to run in terror. The vocals are usually a frightening display of wrenching anguish and torture. That incinerating vocal madness includes yowls and yells, roars and shrieks — a cacophony of violent delirium. There are some deep, slow, sepulchral words intoned on rare occasions; somehow, they’re just as unsettling.
But it’s the guitar work that really makes your skin crawl. There’s a heavy reliance on dissonance and abrasion, deployed in a way that creates an air of persistent tension and horror. The chords bray and drag; they ring out like plague bells and blare like fog horns; they heave like lumbering leviathans and create storms of pandemonium; they build toward grand but grotesque crescendos. The guitarists can also get your head moving, to be sure, but more often they’re bent on creating hallucinatory sensations of doom-stricken calamity and mental breakdown.
For me, the album’s high point is “Morigu Veils“. It’s probably the biggest head-banger on Serpentide, but it’s also a prime example of Duskburn’s talent for creating a tangible sense of despair and derangement… and it turns out to be a heavyweight crusher as well. On the other hand, every one of these tracks got my head in a hammer lock, even the (relatively) short instrumental, “Orochi”, which creates a manifestation of creeping dread and unnerving grief and torment.
To return to the interesting dichotomy at the core of this music: Maybe all the primally compelling rhythms in the music serve a dual purpose. Maybe they’re not just here to appeal to every music lover’s desire to move. Maybe they’re also here to help you survive this album with your sanity intact, providing glimpses of humanity in the midst of inhuman oppression, disease, and death. Or maybe my imagination is just getting carried away. This album will do that to you.