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%

Yellow Eyes – Rare Field Ceiling

What the hell is a Rare Field Ceiling?

Yellow Eyes’ fourth album Immersion Trench Reverie was one of my black metal highlights of 2017, so I was pretty excited for the follow up. Rare Field Ceiling (what does that even mean lol) is a much thicker mixture of dissonance than its predecessor. While it’s a good effort, I can’t help but be left a bit cold, if only because of the weight of expectations. Rare Field Ceiling eschews the alpine atmosphere that kept me coming back to Immersion Trench Reverie. While I’ve enjoyed it each time I’ve listened to it, this one hasn’t become a staple in my black metal listening diet the way its predecessor has.

The Skarstad brothers, who lead the band, have said that leading up to the album there have been a series of devastating health crises in their family (God, I wish that wasn’t so relatable), and that it couldn’t help but have a big impact on the album. I think this makes a lot of sense. While you still have some subtle melody, as well as samples of bells, women’s choirs and the like, this is a much darker album than Immersion Trench Reverie. The production is intentionally rough and muddy and they lean much harder on their dissonant side than their melodic one. While Immersion Trench Reveries brought to mind images of forests and mountaintops, Rare Ceiling Fan almost has the atmosphere of an industrial wasteland. Actually, it reminds me a lot of the movie Stalker where it’s still in sepia and they’re sneaking through the industrial section leading up to the zone.

Yellow Eyes have long had an obscure streak, but I find the song titles to be particularly amusing here. With song titles like “Light Delusion Curtain” and “Nutrient Painting”, thematically they can be as obscure as the music sometimes proves to be. The production here is raw and muddy, the songs structures atypical and everything kind of congeals into this thick, molassesy stream of dissonance. We do have some off-kilter melody penetrating the murk, and it’s a welcome inclusion. Mike is as good as always on the drums, and the rasps are strong and pained. The album is a very dreary affair that kind of ends up blurring into one experience, rather than there being standout songs.

It’s pretty funny that one of the brothers takes on gigs like making commercial Christmas music for Reese Peanut Butter Cups commercials. The swirling shroud of dissonance that comprises Rare Ceiling Fan is about as far away from that world as you can get. While this does not reach the towering alpine peaks of Immersion Trench Reverie, it is still a welcome addition to the Yellow Eyes discography. Featuring a much more dreary and opaque vibe, it is good at what it does an still one of the stronger black metal albums I’ve heard out of 2019.

Rating: 80%

Bartushka – Hospodi

Do not buy this

The title cannot be reiterated enough – even if you like the teaser material for this album, under no circumstances should you buy it from the label. It’s the work of a man who pulled the rug from underneath a genuine artist’s feet to make a cash-grab, and it should not be supported in any way. Bart here may have the legal basis for carrying on with the name, but that certainly doesn’t make him the honest actor in the drama surrounding this album. Should anyone think I’m being unfair by being prejudiced against this release for the drama and not solely focusing on the music, all I have to say is that bringing this external drama up is necessary in judging the album as it would not exist without the drama and like any album its contents have been affected by the context it was constructed in. It’s a lazy cash-grab that truly sounds like just that – it’s a cobbled together load of rubbish that bears no meaningful resemblance to anything approaching a Batushka album.

The common thread that runs throughout is that the material is entirely derivative, lacking any identity or memorability. There is not an original bone in this album’s body; its boldest idea is the mix of choral and harsh vocals, which are ripped off from Litourgiya. The guitarwork is taken from a few sources of inspiration – the astonishingly crappy groove riffs and chugs that pop up from time to time being one example. The unending tremolo throughout the songs makes a lot of the guitarwork here sound like cast off/riffless Nightbringer or Litourgiya material. There are also some references to less riffy symphonic black metal acts, and there are some thrashier riffs at points, most notably on the track ‘Utrenia’ but it’s mostly tremolo-heavy, riffless fluff. Overall Hospodi listens like the work of a coattail riding second-string band with no identity of its own that apes a bunch of different sounds, one of which happens to be Litourgiya. For the most part this doesn’t listen like a Batushka album at all, or a development from Litourgiya, though clearly the band is trying hard to evoke its atmosphere and aesthetics with some very surface-level and forced references to it musically.

Another common factor in the material is that it is almost entirely mid-paced. The band never really picks up the pace or slows down to a drudging crawl; they’re entirely content to sit at a very uniform ‘not really fast but not really slow’ tempo. By doing this the music is erased of any potential points of contrast – there is no chance for a crushing, doom-like passage or a much faster, blast-filled section here. Variation in tempo is not a must for good music but with music this shallow the last thing it needs is to have another layer of potential variation stripped from it. It makes the music even more flat than it would have been, as there is no attempt to alter the mood using the tempo.

Making matters worse is that the songwriting is abysmal. Many of the songs here feature big stretches devoted to building up to something, usually in the form of tremolo and chords atop of double bass and choral vocals borrowed from Litourgiya. The first problem with this is that these build-ups lead to absolutely nothing – in place of climaxes the band routinely delivers an anti-climax in the form of a weak groovy/chugging/slower riff or quiet sections with faint choral vocals and guitars ringing in the background. This has the effect of making the songs feel like parts of the cutting room floor stapled together in the same way over and over again, as opposed to pieces that were actually written as one from start to finish. The second is that the band simply cannot find a way to increase the intensity of their music beyond making it louder with more tremolo, more choral vocals, and more double bass. The music never actually feels more aggressive during these moments, and as a result the buildups that the band spend so much time doing don’t even feel like they’re building up to anything, they listen more like an idea stretched far past the point of being remotely fresh. Tracks will start and end at seemingly arbitrary points, as it feels as if there is no reason why something is happening within them. The tracks don’t build up to anything meaningful, they don’t end in a satisfying way and taken as a whole they don’t even flow properly or feel like a complete journey. This is just about every track on the album, with only ‘Powieczerje’ and ‘Polunosznica’ really feeling like they were written with any care or attention paid to them.

The uniform tempo and equally uniform (lack of) songwriting highlights the next big issue with the album, which is that it is unbelievably copy-paste and very short on ideas. Once you’ve heard one song here you’ve basically heard them all, as the band has nothing to offer beyond rejected Litourgiya non-riffs, Eastern Orthodox-inspired choral vocals, one style of black metal rasp and some utterly flat meandering passages that give way to anti-climactic points, all at one tempo. Ideas get drawn out to the point of becoming stale within songs as the band clearly have no idea how to develop these ideas, and across the album the same tropes get repeated over and over meaning that songs will bleed together as the album wears on and the listener’s mind wanders as they wait for a song to end. Needless to say the songs are far, far too long for how flat and musically bankrupt they really are, and just a few tracks in you’ll be reaching for the pause button. This kills the atmosphere the band spend so much time trying to evoke, and while listening you’ll struggle to feel anything from the music because nothing about its composition or substance is inspiring enough to do that.

This is a miserable failure of a release. It’s obvious when listening who the brains behind Litourgiya was – sure that release was flawed but the regression displayed here is stunning. What few ideas the music presents are inferior copies of other people’s work that then get drawn out to oblivion across every song and the album as a whole. On top of all of this, there is no reason for it to exist beyond cashing in on the clout of an idea that wasn’t Bart’s at all. If you want a new Batushka album, go and buy Панихида, and stay miles away from this, because it’s a waste of time for anybody who chooses to listen to it. This is nothing but an effortless cash-grab; a lazy work that was cobbled together to get another release with the Batushka name on it out of the door. It’s vapid, shallow, soulless and thoroughly devoid of anything interesting.

It’s an embarrassment.

Rating: 13%

Deathspell Omega – Manifestations 2000 – 2001

Re-opening the vault

Manifestations 2000-2001 was one of two compilations released by DsO back in 2008, along with Manifestations 2002. It is comprised of material previously released on a couple of splits and a V/A compilation from the early part of the ’00s, as the title suggests, with the songs coming from two distinct recording sessions. It’s an interesting look at the pre-Aspa phase of DsO’s career – a time before they had truly found their sound or any notability in the metal world at large – and despite being overshadowed by its more notable and consistent sibling, is still of note to fans as it is a neatly packaged collection of material that would otherwise be scattered across multiple obscure releases.

The music itself is very typical of this phase of DsO’s career, to the extent that this material could easily have fit onto Inquisitors of Satan. It draws heavily from the likes of Darkthrone (mostly Transilvanian Hunger) insofar as it relies on the generally speedy repetition of melodic riffs atop a straight-forward blast beat-driven drum performance, but the nods to thrash in some of the riffs and the alternation between these and more typical second-wave inspired material points to Gorgoroth as a notable influence too. The vocals are very redolent of these influences – Shaxul’s unchanging rasp lies somewhere between Nocturno Culto and Hat and fit the music well. There are a lot of high quality riffs and they’re strung together well, they don’t dwell in one place for too long with songs consistently pushing forward (which is needed when every song breaks the 6 minute mark) and the band does well to craft an atmosphere with such basic and well-worn tools, a testament to the quality of the music.

As stated these 6 tracks are from two recording sessions – the first two come from an early 2001 session while the last four come from an early 2000 recording session. This is relevant as there is a very clear divide between the two; not so much in style but in recording quality. The first two tracks feature a typically clear, cold sound with prominently mixed snares and a somewhat delay-heavy guitar tone – very reminiscent of a crisper, higher fidelity version of Inquisitors of Satan‘s sound as well as the sound on Pentagram. The latter four meanwhile feature lower fidelity, noisier production with clickier, thinner drums and similarly thinner, hazier guitars, though these tracks ultimately sound much cleaner than anything from Infernal Battles which came out a few months after their recording. The former plays more to the strengths of the music by giving it more punch and clarity, while the more atmospheric production of the latter 4 tracks makes them less effective by doing the opposite.

The basic problems here are the same with everything else the band were doing before Mikko Aspa joined the fold and Si Monumentum… came out, in that while the material is good it isn’t that remarkable in the end, with a distinct lack of identity and therefore memorability. It also suffers from the same curse those first two albums do, in that there’s not much reason to listen to it outside of historical curiosity. What followed this and related material set new standards for what could be achieved by the band and modern BM bands in general, making them immediately less relevant on a purely musical level. Another problem is that the compilation is incomplete; DsO’s side of their split with Clandestine Blaze from around the same time is nowhere to be found here, which is a pity as those tracks are also exclusive to that split and stylistically would fit right in with this crop of tracks.

Despite its incompleteness and derivative nature, it’s a solid collection of tracks – a worthwhile curio for fans of the band, but only if they actually enjoy the first phase of their career; those who don’t need not apply, obviously. Those who thoroughly enjoy either of their first two albums (especially Inquisitors) will find plenty to enjoy here, and for those who haven’t heard either of their first two albums this is worth a few listens to get a sense of where the band were coming from with SMRC. Not essential by any means, but good.

Rating: 65%

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