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A Compendium Of Suffering - 84%

televiper11, September 11th, 2012

Serpentine Path are a so-called death/doom supergroup featuring ex-members of such vital bands as Unearthly Trance, Ramesses, & Electric Wizard. And their music basically sounds like an amalgamation of those bands with broad swaths of Autopsy, Asphyx, & Winter thrown in. In other words, supremely dim and suffocating death/doom that extrapolates the nightmares of our primitive reptile brains while cudgeling us over the head with hefty rhythmic monstrosities. And on first listen, this record is effective. As veterans of high skill, there is an almost casual vibe to this, as in, I can't believe how easily it seems they tossed off sounds so grim and barbaric. There's no flash, no sophistication, no updates or paradigm shifts to be heard here. This is the ancient stuff, culled from the dark grimoire, meant to push those lurking fears forward in a slow lurch of freakish horror. If you like this kinda stuff, you'll like Serpentine Path. It's that simple.

Now to the nitty-gritty: death/doom is getting popular. That's okay in-and-of-itself. I like hearing a revitalized Asphyx or a revitalized Autopsy. There's great promise in Hooded Menace. And there's great promise here in Serpentine Path. We need these elder gods to emulate. And Serpentine Path has a formula ripe for refinement, flushing out the murk with stabs at haunting melody, occasionally artful soloing, ambient accoutrements, and rhythm and tempo changes. Guitarist Tim Bagshaw's stint in Electric Wizard pays off with psychedelic flourishes of bad-trip LSD psychosis. Having anchored Unearthly Trance together, the rhythm section has a precision swing it takes some bands years to find. And vocalist Ryan Lipynsky skirts the usual subterranean rumbling for the hollow rasp of an echoing god giving forth from an enshrouded tomb. This approach allows his vocals to lay over the slime-corroded guitar tone without sinking beneath it. The production too is incredible. This record sounds large: crisp up front yet soft and broken up around the edges with perfect separation and balance between the instruments.

My only nitpicks are the off-hand way in which this record feels casual. Not that these artists didn't put in a strong effort because they did. But they don't sound quite like they pushed themselves beyond their comfort or capacity either. With a pedigree as strong as Serpentine Path's, one almost hopes for an immediate masterpiece. So while the songs are good: powerful, punishing, absorbing, perfectly balanced between death and doom; they also sound a bit standard, not quite breaking away from the glut this scene has recently perpetuated. I'm reminded of Vallenfyre, another death/doom supergroup with a strong record that pushes towards the front of the pack but doesn't quite push past it. Serpentine Path don't either but the potential for a genre-defining masterpiece of second wave death/doom is obviously within reach for them.