Serpent Column – Endless Detainment

Wars Waged in My Privates lol gottem

Look man I’m just gonna make this a short one.  I’m not reinvigorated by the Covid like most of you are, I’m alternating between pointlessly going to work anyway and spending a week at home being fidgety and annoyed at my housemates for simply existing.  I thought I was gonna review during this downtime to help keep myself sane, but it turns out I hate doing that too but dammit I’m gonna try FUCK

Serpent Column has been something of an underground sensation over the past few years, with Ornuthi Thalassa coming out of nowhere in 2017 to destroy listeners with the main dude whose name I can neither spell nor be bothered to look up’s signature brand of spiraling black/death intensity.  Since that debut their profile has only grown, with last year’s Mirror in Darkness managing to rank in the Top 30 across all genres on RYM, and the subject of this review, Endless Detainment, currently sitting at the pole position in the EP category for this year.

Each release has gotten more and more chaotic, and the current result of that ever-unfurling sonic degloving is an album so twisted that it eats nails and shits corkscrews.  There isn’t even really a thematic thruline I can use within the context of this review to help it make sense, because around every new turn in the music is a new ghoul, a new trap door, a new falling rock.  Everything is a trap and it’s a confusing and violent nightmare.  Take a look at “Arachnain”, likely the best example of this album’s utter distaste for the safe and familiar.  It starts off with the closest thing to a “normal” riff you’re going to find across the entire twentyish minutes of Endless Detainment, with a quick trill and a few chugs, you can’t help but feel like this is an illusion.  Nothing up to this point has been so simple and groovy.  After the whirlwind of broken glass that was “Violence Aesthete”, there’s no way Mr. Column even has the impulse control necessary to stick to something catchy.  And he doesn’t, because before you know it, that simple riff is accompanied by bass and percussion that feel juuuuust a bit wrong, and by the time you can likely comprehend what the interplay between al the instruments is supposed to be well surprise now you’re careening down Willy Wonka’s Boat Ride to Hell.

A lot of people around the ‘net (as the kids say) have been citing a huge uptick in influence from mathcore, particularly Dillinger Escape Plan.  I’m unprofessional as fuck and only have a surface level knowledge of what mathcore even is, so I’m just going to parrot that citation and hope it’s correct.  I can understand it from what little knowledge I have though, as “Pantheoclasm” sounds dangerously close to what genre purists accused Deathspell Omega of being when Circumspice first dropped.  That influence is definitely there, and the first handful of songs in a row all exemplify that sort of dutch-angled firing-squad of riffage, “Manure in Pearls” specifically being the one that crushes my brain the hardest.

I’ve forgotten how to review and I’m going to abuse my reputation to post this rambling bullshit anyway.  The point of all this is that Serpent Column is extremely good, and if you look outside of MA you can tell that it’s really catching on elsewhere.  Hopefully someday the largest and most historically important website for metal culture catches up, because this fucking rules. 

Rating: 88%

Lovebites – Battle Against Damnation

Just gimme a 1/3rd of an album pls

The first draft of this review opened with a lengthy thinking-aloud segment where I opined on how exploitative the idol industry treats women in the Far East, and how desperately I hoped that this wasn’t the case with the current wave of all-girl J-metal bands that have been sweeping the nation in recent years.  But before publishing, I (for once in my life) had the good sense to hold off on spouting Epstein Brain bullshit and actually just talk to some people who actually understand the culture in which these bands spawn and thrive.  The good news is that it isn’t nearly as cynical as I was dreading, with basically every one of these bands being a genuine creative effort from talented women who are seizing a cultural shift that sees the women of Japan no longer being demure and submissive, and using this newfound power to express themselves in ways they previously never really did.  The important one here, obviously, is forming metal bands.  Early progenitors of this specific wave like Aldious and Destrose helped pave the way for the Mary’s Blood’s of the world to break from their cultural chains to dress like cute anime girls while simultaneously ripping listeners to shreds with honest-to-god future metal classics without playing into dumbass pop stereotypes, which helps differentiate this scene from the more cynical marketing moves like Babymetal.  Of those early examples, my clear favorite is Destrose.  Not just because I had mostly found them on accident when doing a shallow dive into Touhou bands and actually reviewed their sole full length years ago before I really knew how much this scene was going to blow up, but because three of the best current bands in the style were all formed by former members.  We’ve got the steampunk fever dream of Fate Gear, the powerhouse of Mary’s Blood, and the deceptively dangerous power metal maniacs hiding behind a saccharine image (and the subject of this review), Lovebites.

The reason I so badly wanted the dystopian hellscape of idol culture to not hold sway over Lovebites is because they absolutely fucking rule.  I could’ve guessed that this band contained members of Destrose (the bassist and drummer, if you were curious) based entirely on the fact that the rhythm section here is equally as menacing and powerful as their previous band.  Lovebites tends to be, as a rule, less traditional and more power metal with regards to their songwriting when compared to their origins (apart from Clockwork Immortality, which (smartly) leans a bit more into AOR at parts, but this was (unfortunately) abandoned with Electric Pentagram), and as a result everything they write tends to be a fuckload faster.  Their sense of melody is completely awe inspiring, with breathtaking choruses peppering every song they’ve ever written and never shying away from an extended dueling guitar solo.

I’ve been speaking in generalities and not really focusing on the release at hand, so I suppose the question needs to be asked why I’m choosing to review their second EP, Battle Against Damnation, instead of any of their other myriad releases.  The reason is simple: this is basically the only release I ever really go back to and listen from front to back.  Lovebites is an incredible power metal band with a bewildering skill to weave between high speed rippers and melodic singalongs without ever delving into pop influence the way stereotypes would have you expect, but their three full length albums have enough material to fill out like four and a half LPs.  There is no reason for their albums to be as long as they are, especially when their songwriting so rarely deviates from their winning formula.  They don’t really fuck around with ballads or interludes, so their albums tend to be completely overwhelming due to the constant barrage of double bass and shredding.  Don’t get me wrong, I love double bass and shredding, but Battle Against Damnation is their strongest release entirely because they only assault me for 20 minutes instead of 70.

The EP kicks off with “The Crusade”, which I’d say often jockeys for the pole when it comes to deciding my favorite song they’ve written, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that it’s basically just a rewrite of Iron Maiden’s “Aces High” but even faster.  The other three tracks more or less stick to their “Galneryus meets Stratovarius with an injection of Megadeth” formula, but the fact that there’s only three of them is a huge boon to the release’s enjoyment.  That… really is the secret to Lovebites’s success I think, they just need to trim the fuckin’ fat and deliver their best cuts instead of bloating everything to absurd proportions.  “Break the Wall” and “Above the Black Sea” are completely dominating power/speed metal typhoons with balls-forward thrash gallops that could even make Persuader blush, and I’d say I want a full album of this but I already know what a full album would be like (totally overwhelming).

I know I keep harping on the length of their LPs and using that as a reason to say their EPs like this one are significantly better, but that’s honestly the truth.  Lovebites writes some absolutely thundering power metal with an impossibly meaty riffset underneath, complemented by powerful, soaring, and crystal clear vocals and absolutely fucking feral guitar solos, and they’re at their best here when they’re restricted and unable to do the same thing too many times in a row.  Just give me a quick, bite-sized morsel of your genius and then take a break.  To the Western Hemisphere folks who see the band of cute girls in white dresses with the word “love” in their name, absolutely do not sleep on Lovebites.  They will absolutely fuckin’ wreck your neck.

Rating: 89%

False – Portent

Thumbing my nose at the True Believers

(I’m not going to bother moving all 500+ of my reviews over here because I am a lazy man, but I’d like to herald my entrance to Review Lads with an album that I love that I also know Thumbman hates.)

If Bell Witch can be held responsible for anything at all, it’s introducing the metal world to Mariusz Lewandowski, apparently the only human being in the galaxy capable of accurately emulating Zdzislaw Beksinski’s iconic art style. Since painting the stunning cover of the aforementioned Mirror Reaper, this nearly sixty year old painter has suddenly found himself one of the most in-demand artists in the entire metal sphere, and one of the bands that won the Lewandowski Lottery this year was Minnesota’s False, a band finding itself scrutinized fairly hard by those in the know. This midwestern sextet seems almost lab grown in how they hit every single nerve when it comes to soaking up alternative press adoration as the token “metal band we’ll allow ourselves to like”. Gorgeous cover art, female vocalist, pristine production quality, easy to absorb and understand music, inspiration from modern styles of metal, signed to Gilead (home of Smart Person BM heavyweights like Yellow Eyes, Mizmor, Falls of Rauros, and Krallice (and previously Fantano mainstays like Imperial Triumphant and Thou)), they blacked out the Internet Metal Journalist bingo card before a note was even heard. I can absolutely understand the skepticism from the underground when a band hits a meteoric rise like False did when every single element seems like the closest thing to an industry plant that metal can muster.

However, sometimes the Hipster Hype Train gets it right. Maybe, just maybe, it was purely by accident/coincidence that False has all of those aesthetic bits that made them media darlings so quickly (though it may be worth noting that they’ve existed for nearly ten years without a lineup change before finally hitting it big with their sophomore release here), because none of that shit should even matter in the first place, and allowing it to cloud your judgment of the album obscures some fantastic songwriting.

I’d be lying if I said Portent was something radically new or unique, but I’d also be lying if I said this was a shamelessly derivative copypasta. It’s pretty close to impossible to listen to any random snippet of this album and not be reminded of Emperor’s full lengths from the 90s, but their personal twist on it is that they’re paradoxically hypermaximalist while taking heaps of influence from drawn out minimalist atmoblack of the Cascadian variety. It’s no secret that I love overly busy maximalism, I am one of the last dudes still loving obnoxious tech death after all, and I think putting such an idea into the context of extremely lengthy and atmospheric black metal creates a sound that should be a total disaster but somehow works marvelously. For example, synths are featured on the album, but they’re never “prominent” in the sense that they’re carrying the melody. They’re settled back playing simple chords to accent the atmosphere, unlike the Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk style of hammering you over the head with doodly melodies. The guitar instead takes the lead when it comes to these things, and they restrain themselves only insofar as they aren’t playing shredding Yngwie Malmsteen arpeggios, because they’re doing everything else they can to be the star of the show here. Occasional bursts of major key triumph pepper the landscape laid out on Portent, and they never let these moments go by without drawing attention to them. Take a look at the 3:37 mark in “A Victual for Our Dead Selves”. That right there is an abrupt shift in mood from slow, agonizing death into a bombastic victory fanfare, and it’s done without a reliance on tooting keys at all. It’s just pure, unadulterated, fist pumping metal slicing through the darkness.

Almost all of the buzz surrounding the album, positive and negative, has done well to describe the music accurately, with the only real difference being the qualitative assessment thereof. If you don’t like the idea of especially busy atmoblack, then False was never going to appeal to you to begin with, and that’s fine. For me though, this is superb. Imagine Wolves in the Throne Room or Altar of Plagues except the drums almost never slowing down and the melodies less floating in the upper spaces and more being shot out of a bazooka. Portent is forceful in its expressiveness, very much taking background elements and exploding them into the foreground. My only real complaints are ultimately pretty nitpicky, those being that the vocals aren’t nearly as impressive as the rest of the band and “The Serpent Sting, the Smell of Goat” is 100% just two separate songs smashed together, complete with fifteen seconds of silence between the two halves. It’s such an oddly pointless thing to do and I wonder if somebody insisted that every song needed to be over ten minutes or else the album wasn’t getting released. Pure speculation, but whoever had that idea is a doofus.

So the hype train took a stop in Minnesota and picked up False, but I’m happily hanging onto the caboose like a filthy transient, pumping my fist and hooting the whole way. Portent just hammers you over the head with riff after riff after melody after riff and I adore it. Maybe it’s overbearing for those who can’t stop huffing the fumes of burning ravens and slashing their wrists with their bullet belts, but for those of you who, like me, wished atmoblack as a scene would stop pumping out so much drawn out mediocrity and finally let something fucking happen for a change, Portent is a godsend.

Rating: 94%

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