Serpent ov Old – Withering Hope (2012)

S E R P E N T  O V  O L D

Withering Hope

2012 Era Horrificus

It is the way of things that genres arise from culture and philosophy, as well as from personal interpretions of that culture and philosophy. In the case of metal, we see its subgenres and styles mingling in different ways to different degrees of acceptance and satisfaction by audience, artists and critics. In the case of Serpent ov Old, this has taken the form of an amalgamation of black metal and power metal, which has surprisingly and graciously bypassed the technicisms of death metal. And while there is word of power metal taking up death metal techniques into its repertoire, the mainstay of power metal has never executed this transition. The truth of the matter is that the melodicity and emphasis on comprehensible chord progressions of power metal has more to gain from the elegant emphasis on melodies-made-flows that the best of black metal has mastered inwardly. At the same time, Serpent ov Old makes music that stands primarily as evocative music elevated above discussions on techniques or style, even if the techniques and ways of expression have been clearly adopted from the sources mentioned above.

Serpent ov Old builds music by stating themes in the fashion of power metal, while balancing —purging— the saccharine effects by the application of black metal underpinnings in percussion, vocalization and guitar strumming. What we can hear is a music dominated by harmonic movement across which significantly active melodic lines move. Tension is built and released and then recaptured by both the melodic-harmonic interplay of lessons learned from black metal here, and those adopted from power metal there. Furthermore, the textural effects of the percussion and how these affect impulse, constriction and relaxation are taken primarily from black metal. The band makes this work by connecting power metal and black metal techniques to their common speed metal foundations, meaning that in many of the cases, the approach of the central riffing and percussion could fall into a nebulous area which both genres share in mature forms of speed metal, although this ambivalence is usually resolved towards black metal. As a whole, power metal is used as a bombastic paintbrush that allows Serpent ov Old to magnify the usually understated dramatism of black metal.

All this has to be accomplished tastefully, and we never find a reliance on trope or techniques: compositions are driven by the central, “invisible” essence of motion and contrast, and fluctuations of power and direction, by and for which the instrumentation exists. The “shredding” abilities of the guitarists in this work are used much in the same way that Trey Azagthoth’s atonal noise solos ripped through old Morbid Angel songs: as hyeroglyphs rather than as pretentious elaborations. These are to be taken as impressionist impressions, and should not be confused as baroque virtuosic displays, for such scale-based quasi noise shreds lack the self-sufficiency of the proper baroque solo instrument that we would hear in a work for viola da gamba by Marin Marais, for instance. And as one listens to the music more and more closely, subsequent spins allow the listener to perceive these relations properly, allowing them to see where the backbone is located, and how the peaks and valleys are formed by the creators of this landscape of poetic rashness.

The music of Serpent ov Old is fierce romantic dramatism akin to powerful forces of nature that destroy yet also create. By adopting and moderating the extroverted expression of power metal and delicately subsuming it under black metal, Serpent ov Old makes the music genres escape the narcissistic trap and makes them serve a transcendent expression of inner experience. Furthermore, this profound experience, if authentic, is one of darkness and anguish; but which darkness and anguish, if contronted and assimilated unto individuation, can presumably lead to the creation of a new type of being. However, the music is still limited by this personal flavor, which still tends to be merely inward looking, but not yet deep enough that a new space is opened up through the self as a gate. We may say that this is ultimately a question of personal experience, reflection and individual meaning. But ultimately, as music, it must be able to develop the ability to somehow come up with an aural language that can communicate a general intimation of what is presenced from beyond.

Note: We might yet see Withering Hope released under the banner of Deathwave Nexion.

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Fanisk: 2002-2013

Article by Doron Rosenberg

It would certainly not be far from the mark to say that Fanisk are the crowning achievement of “NSBM.” The limits reached by Eldrig’s sublime compositions, tempered by the conceptual direction given by Vitholf, far exceeded anything that came either from the “NS” or the “US” camps, altogether escaping the cliched definitions of either. That is, as music, Fanisk fits neither of the pseudo sub-genres in quesion, and only belongs to either by dint of their ideological sponsoring and geographical location. (more…)

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Kristallnacht – Blooddrenched Memorial 1994-2002 (2006)

Article by Doron Rosenberg

The present is the final compilation of all music released by “NSBM” band Kristallnacht. The importance of this release lies entirely on the fact that it is one of the few acts coming from said ideological background with any artistic merit at all. That said, Kristallnacht was always a band of modest musical means, making up for it with a subtle talent for suggestive melodies in lullaby-like triplet feels. As is “tradition” within these circles, the music aims at the formation of axis between melancholic longing, mystic elevation and disenfranchised anger. These are deeply connected to point of origin of everything that underlies the movement, explaining the very limited, usually embarrassingly poor resulting art —to which projects like Kristallnacht or Fanisk are an exception.
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Kataxu – Hunger of Elements (2005)

Kataxu play a style of black metal in which the keyboards appear to lead, while the guitars follow a complementary role that enhances and sustains. In maintaining activity in the melodic movement of the phrases, and a distinct harmonic progression between sections, Kataxu avoids relaxing on the guitar riffs avoiding a meandering feeling that is common to bands utilizing this type of approach. Guitars in distorted power chords are always behind the keyboards in the mix, but are given prominence in between sections or in certain passages in ways that enrich textural variety accross the pieces. Percussion is ever present, but one can rather sense their bulk in the spectrume, rather than actually hear drum patterns.
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Vargavinter – Frostfödd (1996)

A single-release project from Sweden, Vargavinter play a style of black metal that could accurately be described as melodic and ‘ripping’, ‘pagan’ and ‘symphonic’ without falling into any of those narrow misnomers. By holding its influences together into a pointed lance-tip, the music is able to maintain a dignified character as it preserves a certain aggression. The driving, aggressive impetus is able to stand even major chord progressions without disassembling its unitary momentum into constituent mediocrity.  When such disintegration takes place, subpar passages arise, and the music is no longer black metal, but ‘pagan’ or ‘progressive’, for instance. This process entails a frequent alternation of outstanding and mediocre moments in Frostfödd which make of it a tragedy.
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De Vermis Mysteriis / Azhubham Haani [Split] (1992)

Sweden’s Angramain’yo was responsible for various, interrelated black metal projects in that appeared in demos during the years 1991 and 1992. They were all rather primitive, clearly eschewing musicianship for musical elaboration on minimalist premises. In, Desentery, the artist appears focused on developing a clear structure for the crudest but expressive phrasal riffs, this flourished into the project for which he is mostly known: Azhubham Haani. The transition from the precursor to the actualized musical goal came in the form of a higher awareness of the ‘sound’ principle, utilizing structures to define areas of mood by variating texture, intensity as well as the vocal tone, the last within limited bounds. Somewhere in this journey we see the appearance of a singel rehearsal take from an alternate project called Daemonius. Contrary to the more dark cosmology of stars and blackened spaces depicted by the music and words of Azhubham Haani, Daemonius would rather attempt to formulate a mysticism of violent naturalism not unlike the spirit and musical approach of Ildjarn, however informed by the artist’s personality. Before serving prison for stabbing a man in the throat, Angramain’yo brought to our world the crown jewel of his underground metal achievements in the form of a veritable dark revelation: De Vermis Mysteriis.
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Reverorum Ib Malacht – Im Ra Distare Summum Soveris Seris Vas Innoble (2018)

The present album sees Reverorum ib Malacht moving towards more concise expressions of their by-now established sound and style. While now we see less of the separation and experimentation of approaches in instrumentation that circled around a definite sound and concept, the same are no condensed to concentrated moments and particles in the more standardized texture of black metal consisting of drums, guitars and vocals —with the important addition of synths and some programming. The end result is nonetheless highly differentiated and very much in line with the spirit of the project, as the implementation of the elements is dragged to functional extremes so that we find a music that is more accurately defined as dark ambient utilizing black metal “samples.” (more…)

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Mortum Eheieh Chaos (2017)

Mortum have by now focused, or rather reduced their approach to black metal to very specific kind of musical statements, manifesting in more prominent melodies and an overall stability. The first thing the listener may notice in contrast with The Rites of Depopulation (2011) is that texture is now kept constant, rather than having it change for the sake of variety of expression. (more…)

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Gradus ad Phlegethon: First Thoughts

A notion has sprung out of Andreas Languetus’ mind for a project titled Gradus ad Phlegethon the sole purpose of which is not simply to study or theorize, but rather construct a viable method of transmitting the compositional techniques of ‘death and black‘ metal. Where this accumulation of illustrative techniques will take us, we cannot yet tell. But we know that it shall bring together concrete musical practices, basic contrapuntal and motif-writing techniques, as well as techniques aimed at directing the mind to appropriate states. Each of these are instrumental to the formation of a true and complete methodology that encompasses a true evolution of metal into and beyond death and black metal. Said endeavor lies in parallel, though perhaps meeting at intersections, with the search for and use of pure sound as notions for metal and dark ambient composition.
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