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I recall when The Serpent was originally released, all the "hardcore" kids rioted over it and had tantrums similar to the way fanbases turned on Avenged Sevenfold with City of Evil and Atreyu with Lead Sails Paper Anchor. In fact, it seemed to be a trend for all metalcore bands to release an album that's less metalcore and more alternative metal or heavy metal. Good for them.
While fans weren't overall accepting of The Serpent, I certainly was, and though I do not enjoy almost any metalcore albums nearly as much as I did then, I cannot say the same for this album. Still Remains managed to burn their name in the best of metalcore history by turning away from the boring stereotypes of the genre and release something interesting, creative, and even slightly unique. Even their debut, Of Love and Lunacy, was able to separate itself from the herd.
The Serpent is a powerful fusion of melodic metalcore (note the melodic, in that Still Remains leans far more on the melodic death metal side of metalcore than the hardcore side of metalcore) and alternative metal, and they alternate between these styles repeatedly. While the entire album is definitely keyboard-laden (they are so present that they are the major source for my enjoyment of this album), tracks like "Stay Captive" and "Sleepless Nights Alone" eschew metal riffs and growl-scream vocals in favor of a completely keyboard-driven sound and an utter reliance on poppy clean vocal hooks. Though "Dancing with the Enemy" attempts the same sound, it's not nearly as memorable as the aforementioned two which are so catchy they're definite highlights.
On the other end, songs such as "The Wax Walls of an Empty Room," "The River Song," and "Avalanche" are full of groovy, excellent riffs that will really satisfy one's thirst for actual metal in this album. Don't think they abandoned the catchiness though. In fact, these songs are equally catchy and include some of the most sickeningly sweet keyboard melodies on the album (the opening and chorus of "The Wax Walls of an Empty Room" probably IS my favorite keyboard melody on the album). It's the way these songs unite the crushing riffs with catchy keyboard and vocal hooks that make these songs so good. "The River Song" is likely my favorite for this.
Lyrically, this album manages some impressive moments as well. "Anemia in Your Sheets" and "The River Song" managed to catch my attention with the writing style while "Sleepless Nights Alone" merely manages to pull at my heartstrings with a tale to which I relate. It's "Avalanche" though that impresses me the most with its Final Fantasy VII-related subject matter, something which made the Final Fantasy fan in me scream in glee. On the other hand, tracks like "Dropped from the Cherry Tree" and "An Undesired Reunion" may contain deeply personal messages, yet they are blunt and unmoving due to the lack of even a single shred of poetic grace.
Ultimately, The Serpent is a fantastic album that has separated itself from the metalcore pack and succeeds by turning away from the tropes of metalcore. The riffs are commonly in line with heavy metal or melodic death metal and it's contrasted with hugely impressive, ever-present keyboards and vocal hooks that actually work. If "melodic metalcore" ever existed, this album is the very definition of it. I suspect a lot of people not so impressed with metalcore might actually enjoy this album, assuming they can ignore the colossal accessibility level of it. I know I certainly enjoy it.
This album will probably surprise a lot of people who enjoyed the band's first album, Of Love and Lunacy. Not only have Still Remains changed their sound but quite dramatically. Now its far more a mix of hard rock and melodic metalcore where before they were melodic death metal with some metalcore thrown in.
The first track is an instrumental and its quite enjoyable. The Serpent starts with keys and goes shortly before the guitars kick in. Its all a build up as each instrument joins the song.
Ok I have to say, the big problem isnt that the band has introduced hard rock into their style. You know how bands usually do it? They mix their old style with their new influences or they just completely switch to their new sound. But Still Remains half divided the album into 2 musical styles. Half of the album showcases their hard rock sound and the other their melodic metalcore sound.
But dont get me wrong, the hard rock songs are actually good. Well for the most part. A couple of them really stand out, like for example Stay Captive. This song is ultra melodic and TJ Miller showcases his clean vocals that are actually decent and I would even say he could join a rock band and easily get radio play. The guitar play is fluid and not choppy like their metalcore songs on The Serpent.
Another track that displays their talent for writing accessible material is An Undesire Reunion. This one has a little more tendencies towards choppy metalcore riffing but still mixes the hard rock guitar style with this. The chorus is what really makes this song, its the definition of soaring. The verse parts are relatively mellow but it really gains strength musically during the chorus. At the bridge there is even a solo that isnt flashy or technical but still its nice to see them throw it in there.
Then we have the more throw away songs like Maria. Musically the song isnt too bad and is a 4 minute build up getting heavier and heavier as it goes on. Unfortunately lyrically the same 3 or 4 lines are repeated over and over and it just lacks any creativity and imagination. Dancing With The Enemy also seems to lack in those same qualities especially in the chorus. The singing just doesnt fit well with the music and it doesnt flow very well.
Its basically the same with the heavier songs, there are a few good and a few bad throw away tracks. The song Anemia In Your Sheets is my favorite of these. The band puts a lot of effort into the chorus of their songs and it shows here. TJ uses his harsh vocals here and their are a sort of mix of hardcore and death growls. I mentioned the chorus, its monstrous. The keys are playing and are catchy as hell while the rest of the instruments arent especially doing much it cover them but it still just fits very well. There is also quite a bit of lead harmonies scattered pretty liberally through the song.
On the opposite end we have something like Avalanche which starts off with the annoying ass start stop riffing metalcore is infamous for. There are some death growls thrown in here and there though they dont have very much punch or strength to them. The choppy riffs are present through the song and it is just a tired forumula. The only thing it has going for it is the last part of the song with its guitar harmonies that fade into a nice acoustic passage.
Overall The Serpent is just too hit and miss to be fully enjoyable. Individual songs are much more gratifying but there are just too many throw away tracks especially if you arent looking for the softer sound they developed. But there are a couple of redeeming factors, the production is good and the keys dont drown out the music (thankfully) as some bands seem to do. Still, that isnt enough to save an album as inconsistent as this.
Originally reviewed at http://abaddonsmetalshop.blogspot.com/
The first problem I have with this album is the intro track. When you listen to it you can’t help to wonder “Gee guys what is this?”. No offence, but the intro sounds like some rave club hit! The second track starts off with an intro that sounds a bit better, but still not very convincing. This carries on until the third track (“Stay captive”) and then the band comes with a much better and much heavier approach (from a death metal and general hardcore perspective). The fourth track sounds much better and is delivered with a full force of anger. After that there is a much different song, “Maria” that is really not bad, but judging from the previous tracks I thought that the band should have kept on going with a full force of death metal to keep on improving on the crap that they made in the first three (especially the first two) tracks.
The last few tracks are the best. From “Dropped from the cherry tree” right throught to “Avalanche” they made a good impression and these tracks are really fine works of art. I strongly advise that you should not compare this album to the band’s previous albums (especially “Of love and lunacy”) because should you compare it to the previous albums you might not enjoy this album. Judging from the previous albums this album is crap. But if you judge this album from its own perspective and genre you get the idea that it is not bad, but the band could have done better.
Quite surprised to find Still Remains a part of the archive. As they are quite obviously emo / mallcore styled metal. (Yet Soulfly, whose last album was totally thrashing and are fully metal don’t make the cut?). But what I find more surprising is that this album is, um… good.
The melodic keyboard opener “The Serpent” is dazzling and leads well into the crushing “Waxed Walls Of An Empty Room”, which is the album’s highlight as far as I’m concerned. A truly awesome song (if you’re into that sort of thing. I.e. die-hard Cynic fans steer clear). The first noticeable difference from the band’s previous album is the clean singing, which is infinitely more present than on Of Love And Lunacy. It is followed up solidly with “Stay Captive” that shows a bit more of the band’s poppy, accessible side, which was already abundant on the opener.
The Middle section of the album seems to blend together as the songs become inseparable from one another and there isn’t many standout or distinguishable moments, yet the songs still retain a high quality and don’t become boring although lacking distinguishable and / or memorable qualities. That is until “Dancing With The Enemy”. This track could be a Backstreet Boys cover and you’d never know and will probably turn a lot of fans of Of Love And Lunacy’s semi-brutal and riff orientated approach (which I found try-hard and uninteresting even if there were a few good riffs here and there) off The Serpent if the rest of the album hasn’t already. I like the track myself but I can see it riding them of any credibility within the metal community due to it’s boy bandish quality and thumping electro pop back beat. Following up is “The River Song”, another favourite of mine, which brings back the quality of the first 2 songs and the opening instrumental.
Many people will be willing to write them off as the mainstream, accessible version of Killswitch Engage or As I Lay Dying, which at the end of the day they are, but people with an open mind who respect and appreciate that a band’s willingness to experiment with a more polished, poppy and accessible sound can sometimes bring out the best in them (eg. Nirvana’s Nevermind, In Flames’s Colony) and that there’s more to music than necro-black metal and grindcore may well find something worthy of being labelled a magnum opus in The Serpent.