The traditions of Swedish blackened death metal run deep into the ultimately ragged obscurity of first half of the 80’s but it wouldn’t be until the early 90’s when the influence of a few innovative acts would pull away from barbaric rock structures towards brutality meant to exceed the scope of their Norwegian competition. Through a handful of influential performances guitarist David Parland (Necrophobic, Dark Funeral) and drummer Fredrik Andersson (Marduk, Allegiance) really set a higher bar of performative standard for decades of black/death metal copycats that eventually amounted to parody (see: ‘norsecore’) in the minds of many. Soon far removed from the intricacies of Jon Nödtveidt‘s innovative guitar compositions and focused on the brutality of post-millennium death metal, it was imperative to dig deeply in the hopes of scoring anything but rote blasphemy from Sweden’s successive black/death metal generations. Today those old standards are yet upheld by some of the tiring greats alongside talent like Blood of Serpents, who do little more than expand upon that aging brutality but do it quite well.
The story here is actually very common for the life of an extreme metal project. After years of work a promising album was released, ‘Black Dawn’ (2014), and despite its relatively ‘on trend’ black/thrash sound (a la Craven Idol with some Marduk thrown in) it did not set the world on fire just yet. Set upon a gauntlet of challenges and expectations beyond that first release Blood of Serpents is now an entirely different beast focused on the tenets of Swedish black metal previously alluded to. Though there was some potential in working with the ideas explored on ‘Black Dawn’, they’ve made an equally interesting choice in exploring early Dark Funeral and Marduk style black metal. Harried, loud, and liquid in its slapping rhythm ‘Sulphur Sovereign’ gives the impression of grandiose brutality while still evoking a clear traditional Swedish black metal presence. This is both Blood of Serpents‘ greatest point of interest and weakest point of conception.
To be considered traditional in style and distinct in sound is easier said than done when groups like Watain and Funeral Mist continue to raise the standard of the secular artform and in that sense ‘Sulphur Sovereign’ is a lesser songwriting beast. It will be no great surprise that this album was engineered and finessed by Marduk alumnus and if you are likewise familiar with Throne of Heresy, you will at least recognize vocalist Thomas Clifford who joined Blood of Serpents for this album alongside guitarist Lars Björkens. It all falls into a mildly predictable space between recent Necrophobic and Setherial releases with more subtle melodic focus. As relentlessly delivered and satisfyingly balanced the performances and production values are, the largely undying pace of ‘Sulphur Sovereign’ will ultimately be the great decider in terms of lasting interest.
When the blackened clouds do stop swirling overhead and the eye of the storm brings some calm, the guitar work generally shines through best. “Prophet of a False Faith” hits a very satisfying groove that will appeal to fans of more recent Funeral Mist alongside the duo of “As The Temple Burns” and the largely atmospheric “Canticle”. In some ways this appears as influence by proxy yet outside of these breaks Blood of Serpents are a bit too locked into traditional Swedish black metal identity. There is however a great distance between this work and stuff like Dark Funeral and I believe they’ve at least escaped being a rote drag on old ideas. I feel no great excitement for the length of this record or its overall arc but at no point did I lose interest when Blood of Serpents were in motion. Because ‘Sulphur Sovereign’ never grew on me beyond first impressions I can only give it a moderate recommendation without any slight to its composition and riveting, polished glory. For preview “Devil’s Tongue” is one of the better ‘standard’ tracks on the album and “As The Temple Burns” shows the full breadth of Blood of Serpents‘ range within this new purer black metal style.
Consumed by shadowy tongues. 3.25/5.0
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