After releasing an impressive debut back in 2012, then proceeding to vanish amidst the shadows, briefly emerging out of the mist and fog with a cryptic 2-track offering in late Summer 2018… Serpent ov Old, perhaps the most interesting Metal project of the past 15 years (if only to the the present author’s particular personal perspective and tastes musical and otherwise), have finally released their long-awaited sophomore full-length.
As far as a description of Serpent ov Old’s sound and style up to this point is concerned, there is admittedly very little that can be added to veteran scribe D.A.R.G.’s thoroughly astute exegesis on the matter.
As for the new developments that 2019’s Miskatonic Abysmal Path brings to the table, the various tracks on hand present a diverse mix of potential paths to bridge off the iconoclastic Blackened Powerful Serpent sound of old.
The riff-writing and general style shown on most of the tracks here have a tendency to a more “solid” method of construction, leaning towards more of the Heavy Metal side of the band’s persuasion, while also being generally more mid-paced in comparison to the kinetic blasting dramaticism characteristic of previous work. Admittedly in a few places this can almost come perilously close to exuding sonic reminiscences of Melo-Death, but the consistently competent level of composition generally serves to balance out the emphasis on the more Rockier and (what D.A.R.G. refers to as) “personal flavour” elements of the group emphasised in such pieces.
All of these songs are perfectly enjoyable in their own right, some like “Night ov the Hexes” are even compelling at points, but the present author can’t help but feel that some certain intangible “je ne sais quoi” is being held back from reaching its full potential for much of the record.
However, there is one exceptional track here that, both in terms of style and quality, unquestionably stands out clearly and strongly from the rest of the album combined, and that is none other than “TO CARRY THE BLACK FLAME”. (Which was wisely selected as the preview single.) As far as the present author is concerned, this astonishingly spell-binding opus is easily the greatest Serpent ov Old composition to date, as well as the best song released in 2019 that they have heard so far at this halfway point into the year. (Although the latter is admittedly not saying much, at least at this point).
In the final paragraph of his review for the debut, D.A.R.G. wrote about the “personal flavour” of Serpent ov Old’s “inward looking” exuberant/anguished/emotional flair being the most limiting element of the group’s music up to that point, while also hinting that – if properly subsumed and assimilated – it could paradoxically become the key to “the creation of a new type of being”, “[communicating] a general intimation of what is presenced from beyond”. Regardless of what one makes of the rest of the album, there is no question that “To Carry the Black Flame” is the closest step forward songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Schatz and co. have come so far to realizing such an ideal. Right from the opening jolt of Lawrence Wallace’s hallucinogenic sweep-picking salvo of impressionistic conjuration, the 7-minute opus does not let up with presencing a soundscape that is genuinely dark, mysterious and hypnotic in nature – almost reminiscent of the vision of the greatest channelings of the classic Norwegian school of manifestation, yet totally individual in its own right as such shadowy hypnotism is seamlessly blended and empowered through an enthrallingly focused, surging vehicle of relentless kinetic ascension akin to the method of Heavy/Power/Speed Metal stylings. This sinister work, blending mystic hypnotism within relentless activity and violence through irrefragable hatred bursting towards intimations of greater states of being amidst darker realms of experience certainly can’t help but bring to mind the posited goal of “a new space [being] opened up through the self as a gate”.
All in all, while Withering Hope (at least for now) remains as the more overall cohesively definitive Serpent ov Old record to date, the keys to the gates to significantly Higher Level pathways of future black art ascension are embedded amidst the more externally conventional offerings presented herein.