Serpentine Path’s hulking debut should keep listeners in doom-encrusted trance


I was pretty crushed to learn that Unearthly Trance would no longer be a band, as they were one of my favorite doom units for some time. Their mean, filthy approach and bizarre occult messages kept me thinking and excited with each release. Their last album “V,” that was released in 2010, got ample amount of play that year and still gets plenty now, as does the rest of their back catalog. So I have plenty of their material to keep me happy, but the prospect of there being no more new music from them in the future, if the dissolution stuck, kind of sucked.

But, despite the news that UT wouldn’t make it beyond 2012, it was coupled with realization that its members weren’t going their separate ways. If you don’t follow the band, that might be confusing, so let me clear the air. Unearthly Trance, as an entity, would be retired, while its roster — guitarist/vocalist Ryan Lipynsky (who we visited a few weeks ago with his other band The Howling Wind), bassist Jay Newman, and drummer Darren Verni — would continue to create music together with a notable addition to the fold — former Electric Wizard/current Ramesses guitarist Tim Bagshaw. They struck earlier this year with an EP released by Parasitic that showed their wicked promise.

That all might seem unnecessary. Why couldn’t Unearthly Trance simply bring Bagshaw into the fold and continue forward with their heavyweight new member? Because that would actually be the pointless act and perhaps even be counterproductive. For one, Bagshaw takes the bulk of the creative duties with Serpentine Path, and that comes across in the drubbing, droning doom metal these guys kick out. Second, it allows everyone to have a fresh start, including Lipynsky, who is only concentrating on vocals with Serpentine Path. Oh, and they’ve since added Stephen Flam from Winter on guitar, so holy shit, how could a band get more massive than this? That, basically, should explain why shelving Unearthly Trance was critical and starting with a new identity was needed. This is not Unearthly Trance at all, and it doesn’t sound like them, really.

People more into traditional doom and death metal should find a lot to like on the band’s self-titled new record. You get eight truly muddy and skull-smashing tracks here, and all of them pack serious power and ill intent behind them, which should pacify anyone who wants their music to have that truly evil edge. My first listen was interesting, as I was trying to hold at bay all the things I come to expect from this band’s parts and see this group for what it is, and that wasn’t easy initially. But not in a bad way. It may have helped a bit, to be honest, because while I had some expectations based on knowledge of Unearthly Trance, it was refreshing and enlightening to hear something different.

Lipynsky’s vocals are more attuned to his UT work than the Howling Wind, where he delivers more in the black metal vein, and he’s easily one of the highlights of the album. Musically, the band really delivers, sometimes showing off more modern shades, while also reaching back to the roots of Black Sabbath to color in the edges with something more bluesy. The record has a lot of groove as a result.

The album rips open with “Arrows,” a track that dips into Revelations 13:11 before the hammering doom and filth begins to level you. There’s a deep serving of savagery here, with an underneath that’s a little mystical and psychedelic (do I hear synth?), but the crunch pretty much reigns supreme. “Crotalus Horridus Horridus,” a song that takes its name from a rattlesnake prevalent in the eastern United States, is aptly monikered as it slithers its way around, leaving death and fuzzy doom in its wake, with raspier vocals from Lipynsky, who at one point howls, “No retreat!” “Bats Amongst Heathens” is the first truly Sabbath-sounding song on the record, and it’s capped off with a field sampling of bats that gives the track extra creepiness. “Beyond the Dawn of Time” opens with a line from the trailer from “Last House on the Left,” and it melts into a foam of noise, drone, and bruising stomping.

“Obsoletion” is the most interesting cut on the album and the most different. The guitars cry and whinny, sort of like Kim Thayil from Soundgarden’s early days, and the track has more atmosphere and earthiness than the other seven cuts. “Aphelion” goes back toward dipping into Tony Iommi territory with the guitars, and it has a nice blues-infested shuffle toward the end that might, gulp, make you move. “Compendium of Suffering” is packed with feedback, gurgly growls from Lipynsky (at one point observing, “The sound of tragedy”), and weird, echoing noise. You’ll be left bruised, believe me. “Only a Monolith Remains” is the closer, and it opens on a sorrowful, yet bafflingly heavy note, and the whole thing builds to a iron-thick finish that, at one point, has a section that sounds like an anvil being assaulted by a hammer. And maybe that’s what it is. Just brutal and fiery.

I’ll still miss Unearthly Trance if they never come back, but having Serpentine Path in that band’s wake is a pretty damn good option. This record is a seriously awesome slab of vicious doom metal that should scare the shit out of most bands in metal. I can’t say I’m surprised at that considering the sum of this band’s parts, and I’m really excited to hear what these guys conjures in the future.

For more on the band, go here: http://serpentinepath.blogspot.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.relapse.com/serpentine

For more on the label, go here: http://www.relapse.com/

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