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Man oh man does this album leave a mark. The original Incubus was a sight to behold back in the 80's and was responsible for what could quite possibly be the heaviest, fastest, most intense Death/Thrash ever committed to recording. For those who think Dark Angel, Sadus, Slayer, Kreator or Sepultura are the most extreme, you are truly missing out.
Originally from the thrash heaven of Brazil, the original Incubus were one of the first bands to successfully mix death metal, and thrash metal. With the release of their first demo, it was clear that these guys were one of the most savage bands in the entire 80's scene. Sadly, the crappy pop band eventually obtained the rights to the Incubus moniker, forcing the band to suffer a period of inactivity, as well as making them have to change their name to Opprobrium. Still, what incubus was able to do during the short time of their first incarnation was commendable, and in 1988 during the peak of the thrash metal genre, they released an album that could be the most brutal of its entire genre, and still sounds relevant to this day, featuring furious tempos and aggression, which very few bands even now dare touch.
What really sticks out on the classic Serpent Temptation album is the very tight and well executed riffs. Every song in fact, has a level of intricacy, not normally associated with bands of this extremity. When the band plays at slower tempos, they can come up with some on the heaviest riffs imaginable, and at the same time, they can switch to hyper fast tremelo riffing at the drop of a hat. There are many examples of semi-technical song structures and riffs that show the band's capabilities at this early stage in their evolution. Guitarist Francis M. Howard is incredibly talented, and his mind-blowing riffs and superior songwriting displayed here would get even better by the follow up, Beyond The Unknown. The insanely raw production of this album only does the guitar work more justice, keeping the distortion sound like cross between the heaviness of Exhorder, mixed with that of Demolition Hammer. A prime example of the godly guitar tone is the beginning of the song sadistic sinner. The raw distortion creates an untouchable wall of sound. Right from the start, you know you’re in for a ride.
However, the true wonder of this album is the drumming. The hyper-snare style displayed here is very unique, and is primarily why I would consider this the fastest thrash album ever recorded. Many people consider the style here to be a blast-beat. While it is understandable why the drumming could be mistaken for blast-beats because of the lightning fast tempo, upon closer inspection, it is clear that the drummer is actually using a thrash beat style, which to me is amazing. The drummer is hitting the bass drum before the snare (as done in a thrash beat), but he does it so fast, that it could match some bands using full blast beats, such as Napalm Death. To me that is an accomplishment in itself. There are literally bands out there that use full blast beats, that aren’t anywhere near as fast as the thrash beat style used here. For those who think that full death metal, and black metal bands using blast beats are automatically faster than thrash, think again. Never before (and never sense) has a drummer played the thrash beat at this speed! This stuff literally sounds like it could be grindcore at times, and it's all thrash. So sure, there are bands out there that use hyper blasts that sound inhumanly fast, and quite astonishing, but the problem is, everybody is doing this nowadays, and blast beats from one band, don't really sound that different from another. But, how many bands play thrash beats at what is normally considered blast beat tempos? The answer in one. That is why this band is so unique in my opinion. They played thrash at speeds that no other band dared to go. From Kreator, to Wehrmacht, to Dark Angel ect. Few ever matched the ferocity of Incubus's "hyper-thrash beat" namely Merciless, and Agressor, giving this band a unique sound, comparable to almost no other band during that time.
Another unique aspect of the band is the original vocalist, Scott Latour. His vocal style sounds shouted, yet growled at the same time. While Francis M. Howard would later become vocalist of the band, he sounds very close to Sepultura's Max Cavalera. In other words, he just doesn’t seem as original sounding as Scott. Every Scott says is very audible, and easily understood, in stark contrast to many death metal bands from recent times. This still doesn’t keep him from sounding like a mad bloodthirsty demon, in fact, the clarity makes his sound that much more intense than many vocalist from that time and even today. While many seem to complain that Scott wasn’t "loud enough", I find him to be more than adequate for the band's extreme style.
In conclusion, while the masses may claim that albums like Reign in Blood, Darkness Descends, Pleasure to Kill, Eternal Nightmare, Beneath The Remains and Spectrum Of Death were instrumental in pushing the limits of speed in the thrash metal genre, the masterpiece that is Serpent Temptation, truly deserves more recognition, as it was arguably never surpassed in terms of speed in the Thrash Metal genre. And it was done with superb musicianship! Serpent Temptation is a milestone in both the death metal, and thrash metal genres, and was in many respects, a missing link in the evolution between the two genres. A true classic.
Incubus were band in the early movement of death metal that are severely overlooked by death metal fans today. Maybe due to a pop band having the same name, or just lack of exposure, not a lot of people talk about this band, but that doesn't change the fact that their first record is a classic.
So, if this record is classic, what makes it so? Just listen to it. How can one go wrong if it sounds like early Morbid Angel with a larger thrash influence, and sharp execution? If you answered with anything other than "you can't", you're wrong. What we have here is a record full of awesome songs, memorable riffs, all with sharp execution to make a convincing attack. Sounds good, doesn't it?
Putting on the first track, "The Battle of Armageddon" may mislead the listener at first with it's mid-paced intro at first... however, it's clear already that Incubus plays some pretty fine riffs. About a minute-forty in, Incubus kicks it into high gear, and lets you know what they're all about. Ripping blast beats further propel high speed thrash riffs and thus, one's neck will suffer trauma. Even the bass playing is noticeable and does a fine job at filling out the sound. Just as you think a song can't get any better, a deadly solo comes a long and absolutely tears everything up. They seem so in place and really add to the intensity of a song, just like any fast death metal solo should. The solos are well written, as are the songs. Obviously, these guys took their time to make sure their songs had a sense of direction.
The band has accomplished the most important part of making a great record with dynamic and well-planned arrangements, but do they also succeed in the riff department? Obviously, yes. These riffs have a lot of staying power, and are all well defined from one another. This is achieved through use of various strum patterns and rhythms integrated within the riffs. Although there are a good number of tremolo picked riffs, there's a lot of extreme-thrash style picking, palm muting and all sorts of dynamics within each riff. Combine that with good phrasing and a speedy approach, there's a lot of damn great riffs to be found here. Incubus also utilizes their riffs as a lead instrument for vocals at parts. Their namesake song displays this as the chorus goes "IN-CU-BUS!" right along with a punchy guitar riff. The next track, "Blaspheming Prophets" also displays this well.
Speaking of vocal parts, the vocal approach on this album is great, because it's not really typical for death metal, but manages to work in the band's favour. Instead of lower vocals, the band utilizes a mid-range style of shouts that still have a good distorted edge. This is effective especially during fast vocal parts, as clarity is present and the lyrics are relatively easy to decipher. Incubus has some pretty evil sounding lyrics, thus this is a great thing.
It's pretty obvious by now that these guys know what their doing. The playing here is at a really high level of skill. Drums are executed at high speeds and have quite a lot of precision too them. Not to be confused with a drum machine, as the performance here still sounds human. The blast beats on here sound really great, which again always makes me think of early Morbid Angel. The guitar work as mentioned is really dynamics, and are executed flawlessly. And as mentioned the bass is audible enough to hear that it is played with competence.
The skill of these guys is heard well through the production. It has a bit of a Slayer/Morbid Angel style of production, where the guitars are focused less on bass and more on mids/highs, and the bass fills out the rest.
This album is worth anyone's time who's into real death metal. What makes this so cool is you can really hear those thrash roots being utilized fully on a death metal album. It's too bad Incubus never released more than two LPs, because this album is so well done.
This is one of the best records of 1988, along with Bathory's "Blood, Fire, Death", and Death's "Leprosy." Louisana's Incubus created a masterpiece of deathly thrashmetal that was way ahead of its time.
The record starts off with "The Battle of Armageddon" a track that opens with a small intro that conjours up images of horse drawn chariots engaged on an ancient battlefield that culminates in a tremedous breaking of glass. Then the song kicks into a fast riff, then a killer mosh riff, then a hypersnare drum part reminisent of Sepultura's "Bestial Devastation" or Sodom's "In the Sign of Evil." Drum god Moyses Howard's performance on this record is amazing. The vocal delivery of Bassist/Vocalist Scot W. LaTour is also really cool, as he has quite a snarl to his delivery, but not a full-out growl, somewhat similar to Jeff Beccera of Possessed, but definately with his own sound.
Most of the tracks on this record consist of a mixture of slamming breakdown riffs or high speed hypersnare, sort of like the NYDM scene (Suffocation, Internal Bleeding,etc.), but before it existed and with a heavy thrash vibe (Kreator, Sepultura, Sodom, etc.) that makes the sound of this record so unique for when it came out. Although every track on this record slays, some standout tracks are the aforementioned "The Battle of Armageddon", "Sadistic Sinner", and the title track "Serpent Temptation".
On "Sadistic Sinner", Latour delivers some really killer lyrics with a very twisted sounding conviction to his voice. "He taunts my soul and he twists my mind, The blood of my victims is all they can find, I dismember the body as its blood is being sprayed, I gaze in splendor at the mess I have made."
"Serpent Temptation" has a very intense main riff through the majority of the track, and lyrically touches on the biblical story of "Adam and Eve" with a slant towards Christianity, but without being as preachy as say Vengeance Rising used to be, or as Mortification is to this day.
"Serpent Temptation" in its original form (The 1988 release) was definately a groundbreaking fusion of thrash and death metal, but it never saw a proper distribution and was buried in obliveon.
On a final note, the re-released version of this record in 1996 on Nuclear Blast/Radiation Records is not the same record as the 1988 release on Brutal Records in the US and on Metalworks in the UK. The re-release has many lyrics changed to be less violent and new vocals from Guitarist Francis Howard, who's style is a bit to close to Max Cavalera to be considered unique sounding. Also the guitar tracks were re-recorded and are cleaner, but has less "bite" than the original guitar tracks.