Changes abound, but still a strong effort from the Belgian lads
Within the doom metal scene, Belgium based outfit Serpentcult forged out a unique sound for themselves with the aid of their vocalist Michelle Nocon. Granted, Serpentcult aren’t the only ones to have ever had a female vocalist at the helm (California’s Jex Thoth and Canada’s Blood Ceremony also had female lead vocalists), but none came close to matching the brilliance of Serpentcult’s Weight of Light album from 2008. It’s been three years since then, and things have changed dramatically, with Nocon parting ways with the band. In addition to that, the band parted ways with their label (Rise Above Records), which meant a serious rethink of direction was in order for the remaining members.
Serpentcult have never had the best of luck when it comes to vocalists (the band’s original vocalist Steve MacMillan was arrested back in 2006, which in turn forced the band to change their name from Thee Plague of Gentlemen to their current moniker), so it comes as no surprise to find that Serpentcult have decided to remain as a trio (who comprise of guitarist Frederic Caure, bassist Steven ‘LQW’ Van Cauwenbergh and drummer Frederik ‘Cozy’ Cosemans), and provide whatever vocals they required, themselves. Years have rolled by since the release of Weight of Light, but after securing a deal with Listenable Records, Serpentcult are back with their new album Raised by Wolves and, as you would expect, there’s been plenty of change in the meantime.
Comprising of a mere four tracks, the band kick start the album with the titular track, which initially begins with the sounds of rain, thunder ,and crows eventually making way for the sound of guitars. Song wise, Raised by Wolves is based all around a simple groove that’s hammered home endlessly in a heavy doom like fashion over the course of some nine minutes. While the description makes the song sound long and mundane, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The band have managed to create a dark and dense atmosphere throughout that brings to mind Neurosis and Triptykon in part (without sounding entirely like either), while Caure’s vocals only add to the overall dark and desperate vibe of the dooming epic without interrupting the songs flow one bit.
Without so much as a gap, the instrumental Crippled and Frozen bleeds on from the opener and in the process introduces something a little different from the band than what you would normally expect – and that’s stoner rock played in an almost doom metal manner. The up-tempo riffs are pitted against a low rumbling bass, which really does sound different. But regardless of how this sounds on paper, Crippled and Frozen is an infectiously groovy number, and definitely one of the album’s more memorable (and accessible) efforts.
Longing for Hyperborea is by far the album’s most adventurous track, with the bulk of the song taking on more of a jam feel, but in an alternative rock vein rather than the usual doom metal format you’d expect of the band. While the change of sound and direction is something unexpected, it’s certainly not a bad thing, with the droning hum of the instruments and the barely audible vocals (which was supposedly supplied by some friends of the band) helping maintain a dark atmosphere throughout.
Finishing up the album is Growth of the Soil, which is by and large a fairly basic doom/sludge track, and exactly the sort of thing you would expect of the band given their past record. Caure again provides vocals in places, but they’re utilized in a way to create another tapestry of sound, rather than delivering anything from a spoken point of view. A little jamming like in places, atmospheric dips in other places and chaotic and powerful by its eventual conclusion, Growth of the Soil is a hugely dense and aggressive sounding number, and one that closes the album perfectly.
The Serpentcult of today isn’t exactly the same as the one from three years ago, with the band seeming to be open to experimenting more in creating moods, rather than simply knocking out doom metal measured by its riffs and vocal melody lines and choruses.
Serpentcult’s sound has always been based around the doom metal sound, but looking over the band’s body of work, it’s clear that they’ve never been one to do the same thing twice in a row (even if that’s because of an ever changing vocalist within their ranks). And if you look at things that way, you could view Raised by Wolves as not so much a departure, but just another chapter in Serpentcult’s bizarre and ever changing musical offerings.
(Listenable Records/Rocket Distribution)