Finland’s cult black-death metal band Serpent Ascending have been going for eight years, and now release their first album. The band seems to revolve around one individual, who has played with a number of other bands most of whom I’ve never heard of, but as is the way with these bands, there’s a special dark and crusty intensity about them as they indulge in their blackened world.
This is certainly the case with Serpent Ascending. The outlook is bleak, the sound is old school, and the drumming is straight black metal hammering but what’s interesting here is that there’s a mystical feel running through it. The opening title track has a haunting, even epic piece dissecting the barbaric drumming and uncompromising guitar work. Such too is “Entrance”. This is followed by the grey opening of “Karelides”, which opens out and expands into a brighter melodic line with grizzly vocals to remind us that this is not here to delight us. The track dies off when there could have been more, and makes way for the more thundery yet equally torturous “Male Atavism”. This one breaks out into furious chaos, but with the drum now hammering out a rapid beat, it’s exciting until the end when long strident chords remind us that we’re not supposed to be having fun. Not to be ignored are the threatening vocals. “Mound of Ing” contains all the menace you could want from a black metal band and more besides as it steps fluently into a rapid-fire passage. Transformations are a strength of Serpent Ascending, and it now slows down to end in a sinister fashion. The album finishes with a boisterous and melodic piece of black metal, “Rivers of Lava”, complete with a break and re-start just before the final bleak flourish.
“Ananku” is a short album at 30 minutes, but I guess the man behind Serpent Ascending says what he wants to say. Yes, this is old school black metal but it’s skilfully played as the dark passages blend into each other, and there’s always intrigue in them.
(8/10 Andrew Doherty)