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Glorious debut - 95%

skoggangr, September 14th, 2017

Like a warrior leaping, bronze-clad, from the furrowed field of Cadmus, Serpent Column rises out of nowhere, fully formed. This new American two-piece plays towering, majestic black/death carried by blazing, virtuosic tremolo melodies, and driven home by a dizzying, kit-wrecking drum assault. Serpent Column finds the inner connections between seemingly disparate styles, weaving together the cathedral-esque atmospheres and abrasive textures of Deathspell Omega, the melancholy reverence of Finnish kvlt black metal like Sargeist, and the ripping death/thrash attack of Angelcorpse and Scythian.

The unifying impulse, drawing these disparate sounds into a single irresistible torrent, is the classically influenced songwriting of mastermind ‘Theophilos’. This aesthetic marks him as an heir to the sturm und drang of mid-90s Scandinavian bands like Dawn, Sacramentum, and Kvist, but Serpent Column goes even further – Ornuthi Thalassa doesn’t just sound like classical music, it has the dynamic, unified structure of a Romantic symphony. Each sick riff is just one of many closely interrelated melodies derived from a handful of stem phrases. For instance, the whiplash flourish that opens ‘Biogony II’ foreshadows the rolling, scornful climax of ‘Men Of The Polis’, even as it launches into the album’s first major theme. This heroically ascending melody is built from a single, propulsive three-note phrase that recurs throughout. Over this, Theophilos screams out his primal invocation – ‘Ornuthi, thalassa!’, or, ‘Rise, ocean!’

The lyrics – written in English, as a single epic poem, and then translated into Ancient Greek – lay out a sweeping mythopoeic history of the Western world, tracing a cyclic arc from the origins of life to the rise of man, from the pagan glories of Bronze Age Greece to the slow spread of the cancerous rationalism of Socrates. In the final track, ‘Feuersäule’, we hear this process culminate in the catastrophes of the present day. All the major themes from the album recur, transformed, as all the cosmic forces set in play converge. The oceans will rise once again.

But this dark story is told with a purpose – to ‘restore to us our sight’, and orient us for what lies ahead. We get a glimpse of what this might mean on track five, ‘Feldweg’, where triumphant, racing riffage erupts into a stately dance, and Theophilos asks the Muse to ‘Lead us, then, far from the cities of men,/To behold things that consume us’:

‘Here course primal waters wild
And whirls bios unfettered
To time’s mad pulses
Though no place, none,
Not the blackest gulfs of thought
Nor the dunghills of ἄνδρες
Constrain gods, for all is Macht.’

Originally written for Columnus Metallicus at The Quietus.