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After a year of relative inactivity, the ever-prolific Njiqahdda have put forth their first full-length in 2 years, heralding yet another stylistic shift. On “Serpents in the Sky”, Njiqahdda have toned down the staggering complexity found on their previous full-length, “The Path of Liberation from Birth and Death”, in favour of catchier and more memorable riffs. In fact, this album is probably their most accessible yet. However, do not make the mistake of associating accessibility with blandness and lack of creativity. Far from it, Njiqahdda have managed to create one of their best albums in recent years with this simplified style.
First off, the style of music found on this album is closest to that of the three tracks composed for the 2012 split, “Departures of the Golden Temple”. Guitars are competently handled by /, retaining their signature, albeit hard to describe, Njiqahdda sound. The riffs are nowhere near the speed or level of technicality of “The Path of Liberation from Birth and Death”, but they’re still engaging enough to keep things interesting throughout. The title track also features a guitar solo (a rarity for the band) that’s incredibly simple yet thoroughly captivating.
/ sings with a throaty growl, at times going out of tune, seemingly intentionally. He doesn't exactly have the best voice around, but I couldn't think of a better singer to complement the mystical riffing. The drumming from - is highly energetic and varied as usual, often aligning with the rhythmic patterns of the riffs for greater emphasis. Bass guitar (also handled by -) does what it needs to do, providing the framework for the guitars to do their thing, while occasionally diverging to add a bit of variety. The production value of the album is also excellent, allowing every instrument to be heard crystal clear.
Finally, the album doesn't contain any overly long ambient sections often present in their previous releases, which is a huge plus. For instance, “Nji. Njiijn. Njiiijn.” contained a few of these filler sections, but at least it was part of the whole atmospheric fuzz they had going on back then, so I could somewhat let that pass. On the other hand, “The Path of Liberation from Birth and Death” featured a seemingly never-ending ambient section smack-dab in the middle of “Universal Form Replaced with Despondent Chaos”, which prevented an otherwise amazing album from reaching perfection. As a result, “Serpents in the Sky” is a 70-minute monster of an album that simply doesn't let up. It’s a very strong contender for album of the year in my book.
In light of Njiqahdda’s continuously evolving sound, who knows what the future holds for them? I’m confident that after the relatively barren 2012, Njiqahdda will be on a roll this year.
“Serpents in the Sky” is undeniably one of Njiqahdda's more accessible albums, the songs being relatively catchy, and there being a stronger emphasis on clearly discernible guitar parts. It is far less a mass of atmospheric noise, and more a (relatively) conventional metal album, utilizing the sound and techniques of quite a few subgenres. In these aspects, it is very different from their masterpiece “Yrg Alms”, which is however not to say that it is a bad album. Far from it, “Serpents in the Sky” is most definitely a great Njiqahdda album, having the trademark mystical/psychedelic tinge and interesting and unique songwriting. If anything, this album proves that Njiqahdda can create basically whatever kind of metal they want and it will be good. One thing that is peculiar to this album, though, is its technicality. The drumming is sharp and involved, the guitars are active, and the vocals are spot-on. At the beginning of “The Veil of Allaeius”, for instance, the drums are quite bombastic.
The production on “Serpents in the Sky” is quite clear and punchy, and the drum sound in particular is satisfying. I find myself wanting a bit more grit in the guitars, but I guess the cleanness comes with the style. The vocals, both clean and shouted, have a balanced amount of reverb and gain and other such effects, and it's good that they're not too much in the foreground.
The music here is not as uniform as on some previous Njiqahdda albums. The songs are distinct, but all sound like they go together. There are actually a good deal of change-ups within each song, and while the atmosphere carries over it is not the only thing to which one should pay attention. Rather, the riffs and drum fills draw one's ear constantly. The first riff in “Gaia”, for instance, is absolutely infectious. I'm not really sure what subgenre this falls under, and that is a good thing in my book.
With these things in consideration, it would seem that “Serpents in the Sky” is a good place for newcomers to start with Njiqahdda, given it is more conventional and catchy while still retaining the band's signature sound. It is strange, being both aggressive metal and psychedelic, and the beat usually being driving. Overall, I think I prefer the style of “Yrg Alms”, but this is definitely one of Njiqahdda's better albums, though none of them are bad. I can definitely see this having a spot in my permanent album rotation. Recommended for people wanting to check out Njiqahdda.
Standout tracks (if you wanted to sample a song or two, try these): “Gaia” and “Serpents in the Sky...”