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Of Things Seen & Unseen

The Church Within (2014)
Rating: 8/10

When the opening riff to ‘The Penance You Pay’ came lumbering into my ears, I literally had to make sure that I hadn’t left a cotton-bud in there from the night before.

London-based Serpent Venom had eluded me until this new opus but with enough fuzz and fluff to fill an ogre’s belly-button, they come lurching at you like a thick, bellowing shadow of doom. With Garry Ricketts’ barking orders rising above the black waves, Serpent Venom hints at a classic doom metal sound where clear, foreboding vocals are the key ingredient used to spice up those gargantuan riffs and hulking drums.

With already one opus behind them in the form of 2011’s Carnal Altar, it’s nice to actually hear a doom metal band fuelled by the qualities which make all good doom bands so bloody heavy. Hints of Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus, Cathedral, Trouble et al; classic bands which spring to mind throughout this leviathan of a record that is crafted with slickness and exhales more than just a handful of creaking groans.

Above all though, the riffs are as catchy as hell, eased out of their musty holes by Roland Scriver who modestly caves in the skull as a riff-meister general hell-bent on reviving a sound that has all too many times recently given way to fuzzed-up drone and stoned dullness.

And so it begins with that rolling tide that is ‘The Penance You Pay’, which in formidable fashion bowls across country like some angry troll. The interesting thing about this troll, however, is that its voice doesn’t have to necessarily be heard in terrible fashion above the boom of its wart-encrusted feet.

Like all good doom metal vocalists, Ricketts is somewhat unassuming in his role; merely a preacher of evil pointing where the riffs should go while the black avalanche of Paul Sutherland’s drum smothers all in its filthy wake. It’s fair to say that when it comes to doom metal one cannot beat that no frills, aching melody and ‘Sorrow’s Bastard’ is typical of that swirling mass of melody that just evokes images of ancient trees and robust chests hiding antique evil. ‘Sorrow’s Bastard’ lumbers but never drags its feet, because its motion is so fluid.

‘Death Throws At Dawn’ continues the unearthly slumber; slowly unveiling itself – firstly by unwinding the coils of a seething guitar, the next exhibiting the booming heartbeat of the drum before Nick Davies’ bass comes flicking and festering from the shadows. The voice is prolonged; the rumbling a mere warning until Ricketts opens up his lungs and addresses all who have gathered before him, and this is the thread that runs right through this mountainous offering. Pick any track at random and you’ll find those dark, ancient openings will creep up on you unexpectedly, and then your neck is constricted by that crushing riff and enveloping percussion.

‘The Lords Of Life’ is the most suffocating of all the vibes offered; a mere trundle for seemingly so long before the storm clouds open and the temple is battered by raindrops the size of golf balls. Then, in true serpentine Sabbath fashion the band throw in the curious ‘I Awake’, a mere ditty of acoustic value before the massive bellows of ‘Let Them Starve’ soaks up all remaining life like a foul, swollen sponge on the move and mopping up.

While many may crave a deeper vocal tone, I find Ricketts’ style unsettling and perfect for this sort of overcast metal. In fact, I guarantee that as ‘Pilgrims Of The Sun’ heaves itself through some nine-or-so minutes and brings us to the closing ‘Burning Free’ with its mammoth weight and creaking beams, you’ll be grateful that Serpent Venom exists in the form it does and long may it crush those of little faith in old fashioned morose metal.

Neil Arnold

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