In the Company of Serpents
The one thing which unites the three bands featured in this article, the third and final edition of my week-long focus on all things slow, heavy, haunting, and atmospheric, is their sheer quality, as each one of them could be considered a highlight of this year’s bumper crop of doomy delicacies.
IN THE COMPANY OF SERPENTS – LUX
Running the gamut from dense, droning ambience to richter-scale bothering riffage, with diversions and digressions into stomping grooves, trippy melodic moments, and wild, thrashy energy (and that’s just opener “The Fool’s Journey”), variety is most definitely the name of the game on the new album from Denver’s In The Company Of Serpents, with nary a moment that doesn’t simultaneously grab your attention while also challenging your expectations.
And yet, for all the record’s multifaceted, genre-straddling, approach, it’s never anything less than a seamless arrangement of form and function, where every section, every song, every twist and turn, interlaces seamlessly with the next.
It’s a fantastic album, it really is, whose streamlined (yet proggy) songwriting often reminds me of Mastodon back during their initial “breakthrough” period, when every track was both instantly infectious and yet endlessly (and increasingly) rewarding multiple times over.
I’m not saying that the two bands actually sound the same of course – In The Company Of Serpents are both doomier and much more atmospheric, for one thing – but they definitely share the same potential for massive, mainstream success.
Whether it’s the seductively slow ebb and flow of “The Chasm at the Mouth of It All” (which sounds, without hyperbole, like an undiscovered collaboration between Nick Cave and Neurosis), or soul-stirring closer “Prima Materia” (which could almost come from an alternate timeline where Tom Waits was the vocalist for Acid Bath) the band’s nascent mass-appeal – both within and beyond the Metal scene – is undeniable, yet there’s never any sense that their obvious accessibility comes at the cost of their artistry or integrity.
Of course, Lux is most definitely a Metal album first and foremost – a significantly doomy, stupendously groovy one at that – and isn’t lacking in bold, bombastic barnburners either, as the bass-driven swagger of “Scales of Maat” and the shamelessly melodic, rivetingly riffy “Lightchild” make clear the moment they kick in.
But the truth is, to use a hoary old cliché, that this is most definitely an album that’s greater than the mere sum of its parts. It’s the sort of record which could be described as having ambitions well above its station… if it weren’t for the fact that the band themselves clearly have all the necessary talent and drive to turn these ambitions into a reality.
LOVIATAR – LIGHTLESS
Much like a finely aged and perfectly blended whiskey, Lightless, the highly anticipated second album from Canadian Doom crew Loviatar, is full-bodied, rich in flavour, and goes down so smoothly that you’ll probably want to go back for a refill as soon as you’re done!
With a greater focus on gorgeous, gloomy melody and haunting, melancholy hooks than ever before, it might be an abuse of an already over-stretched metaphor to state that this album has… spirit… but it wouldn’t be an inaccurate statement by any means.
That’s not to say it’s lacking in the riff department by any means, as practically every song possesses a rock-solid backbone of gritty, groove-heavy guitar work, and anyone doubting the band’s doomy credentials shouldn’t need to listen any further than bombastic opener “Suffocating Delirium” to realise just how misguided that opinion is.
However, it’s the band’s ever-evolving, proggier proclivities – sometimes erring more towards Porcupine Tree than Pentagram or Pallbearer, although with more than enough hints of the latter two to satisfy even the most discerning of Doom-hounds – which ultimately give this album that extra dose of vitality and vibrancy.
Take the delicate melodic fretwork, fluid bass lines, and spacey grandeur of “Horse In Thrall”, for example, all of which fit together to give a sort of snapshot of what Doom Metal from a parallel, more progressive dimension might sound like, while also retaining all the classic elements – the soaring vocals, the rolling, rhythmic momentum, the indulgent, trippy lead guitar lines – which drew so many bands, and so many fans, to this particular style in the first place.
Or perhaps, if something that’s as heavy in atmosphere as it is heavy in riffs is what you’re after, “Silica” will be more your tempo, built as it is from layer upon layer of interlinked tones and textures, every one of which is designed to tug upon your heartstrings even as the song’s weighty bottom end resonates deep in your marrow.
Of course the record’s crowning achievement is its ten-minute title-track, which closes out the album in a climactic, drawn-out conflagration of solemn, slow-burn riffage, lush, psychedelic melodies, and overwhelmingly emotive atmosphere, but absolutely every song here (clocking in, collectively, at a crisp and clean thirty-seven-and-a-half minutes) contributes something both distinctive and utterly essential to the greater whole.
SHEDFROMTHEBODY – A DEAD AND AIMLESS HUM
Probably the most “outside the box” entry out of all three of these articles, the debut album from Finnish fatalist Shedfromthebody (aka Suvi Savikko) strikes an almost perfect balance between desolate ambience, doomy atmosphere, and shimmering shoegaze soundscapes.
It’s a fascinating and incredibly evocative mix of sounds, both intensely introspective and exceptionally expressive at the same time, that doesn’t necessarily fit within the “traditional” confines of what we might consider “heavy”, but which has an undeniable presence all the same.
Songs like “Sol”, “Hyaline” and “Cherubian Hand”, for example, marry an aura of haunting vulnerability to a sense of sombre, slow-burning intensity reminiscent of similarly dynamic, atmosphere-infused artists like Sinistro and Obscure Sphinx, while calmer, but no less cathartic, cuts like “Hum” and late-album highlight “Veins” frequently recall the bleak beauty of Alcest or Anathema (albeit with an overall doomier vibe).
Shedfromthebody’s ability to paint such an eloquent and enthralling picture with such a moody, minimalist palette is undeniably impressive, especially considering that the entire album is the product of just one individual’s ambition and abilities, but it’s Savikko’s vocals which stand out most of all.
Tender and tremulous, poignant and passionate, her voice shimmers rather than whispers, shining rather than soaring, filling the air with dreamlike melodic tones which ring out and reverberate with crystalline clarity and ethereal emotion.
As debut albums go, A Dead and Aimless Hum is one of the most intriguing efforts which I’ve heard so far this year.
It’s not completely perfect (synthy goth-rocker “Axhide” feels very out of place, while closer “A Disintegration” is largely overshadowed and robbed of its impact by it’s superior predecessor), but I can confidently say that the album’s many good points (and I’ve not even mentioned how slowly and subtly “Curl” evolves towards its fuzzy, sludge-tinged finale, or the scintillating Post-Black climax of “A Better Place”) easily outweigh the record’s minor missteps.
So give this one a chance next time you’re looking for something doomy which doesn’t necessarily trade in the familiar concepts and cliches. You might just like what you hear.