Once inducted into the whirlwind of our modern day epidemic of “bad faith”, as Sartre would describe it, self-effacing dehumanization becomes a funnel trap of programmed mental disarray and zealotry. So rare is a true escape from the cultural damnation of false values and aggressive social pressure that a true paradigm shift away seems impossible without equally drastic extremism. What reasonable but potent enough antithesis exists in counter-culture today that isn’t whitewashed and exploited by a million greedy, narcissistic clenched fists? To descend into nihilism as a form of personal cessation and/or defeat isn’t unreasonable. Yet most willingly claw and clamor for an opportunity to walk into the rain, be washed of grief and falsehoods, and be dried in the sun as being anew. With the smell of ozone vibrant in our nostrils and the rays of the sun glinting atop the steaming moss at our feet a human being can be changed, repaired by their truth as a natural being. What the green and the grey of the Pacific Northwest does to sustain me as a human being, and not a machine-fed/box-stuffed swine, the finer extreme metal projects the world over do to enrich and supplement that sustenance. Great numbers of artists provide pointed novelty, nostalgic dalliance, and primal adrenaline surges yet next to none inspire with the paradigm shedding grandiosity of Serpent Column.
This performative and intense symposium appears as a less tightly wound but no less energetic pillar, perhaps just as fueled by ancient abstractions as ‘Ornuthi Thalassa’ (2017) but with a plied and shifted philosophical rendering. ‘Invicta’ resonates not as apocalyptic doom but as freeing prose for the listener, inspiration for survival and reason; It comes with a knowing wisdom, the same level of taut intellectual poetry one could reasonably expect from guitarist, bassist, and vocalist Theophilos, an artist who seeks the Gods-eye view when creating. Where previous works restored the clarity of the listener to a spiritual connection with the forces of nature and being, ‘Invicta’ delivers upon the promise of a great and golden unraveling beyond withering forms and unenlightened existence.
Fluidity and motion within the three extended movements of ‘Invicta’ appear as rolling waves, connected naturally by the medium but made distinct by the fluctuations in the forces that created them. The eruptive dual rhythm guitar storm of ‘Ornuthi Thalassa’ now adapts to aptly rethought drum patterning on ‘Invicta’, this is perhaps the most startling and grand leap taken forward as Serpent Column further realize their vision. With some study of modal jazz drumming the duo create undeniably captivating and entirely directional ‘progressive’ music that masterfully uses the attack of black metal as great bursting peaks of expression. This intended amplification of cinematic values sets ‘Invicta’ on a freeing path illuminated by three meticulously achieved yet fountainous pieces.
The furiously snapping maw of riff-after-riff is not extinct in the hands of Serpent Column yet is pointedly reserved for necessary impact. With closer listens it becomes apparent that guitar prowess is no less impressive yet far less anxiously delivered. If the quickest thoughts upon firing up ‘Ornuthi Thalassa’ pointed to Grand Belial’s Key and Deathspell Omega then ‘Invicta’ paints wild strokes far outside of those lines; I’d not suggest a shift towards post-whatever music but rather a novel erasure of the strictures enforced by the black metallic self-conscious. In this sense the compositions resemble the eruptive flowing cinema of later Absu if it were informed by the eclectic dramatics of early Kayo Dot. The technical flair displayed showcases sheer commitment to guitar runs resultant, which achieve an organic result that will particularly please listeners accustomed to the higher standards of groups like Krallice or Mastery.
Technique serves as abstract velificatio around the nape and profile of Venus, depicted on the accompanying artwork, as symbolism and gesture taking inspiration from the imperfect and crumbled modernism of ancient Rome. A love of great works, that which may speak for the artist’s imperfect self with voice transcendent of fettered humanity, drives ‘Invicta’ with palpable force; Whereas the stylistic musical inspirations of Serpent Column evolve less within this modal shift the ideas, compositions and themes of the work become increasingly grand. The never-ending grind of a modernist unable to fully realize something as amorphous as utopia or transcendence does not so much theme the lyric but the inspirationally shaping body of work around the artist’s name. The lush and fiery spiritual imagery of “Asphodel” is distant, as if gripped by Hesiod‘s zoomed-out view of the gods, whereas the rifled and building intensity of “Decursio” is carnal in description of torn empire and mind alike; There is a warrior’s violence beset by admiration of beauty within the lyrics of ‘Invicta’ that feels entirely appropriate for the increased compositional dramatics that they accompany.
Were the listener to engage in nothing but the spectacularly morphed sound and rhythmic dynamic of ‘Invicta’ they would still be met with an impressive work. What struck me upon the first listen was the narrative voice of the guitar in particular; It is the most important poetry driving Serpent Column to be sure as atmospheric transitions whirl between intensity and refrain in creating a seamless voice. I felt there was some genius in relieving the mounting pressure of ‘Ornuthi Thalassa’, an incredible flood of aggressive and technical guitar work, with a record that unravels the compaction of the first piece into something that speaks with expressive and fluid statement rather than prattle on with a pure hammer of a heavy metal record. The end result is easy to recommend and what I’d consider as an essential higher mark for black metal this year. When previewing “Decursio” I would at least suggest that it is one great energetic apex of many peak-and-valley moments within the full listen; It only marginally prepares for the full scope of ‘Invicta’. I am comfortable recommending a physical copy when available simply because of the limited ‘single run’ nature of Fallen Empire releases as the label concludes as an entity this year.
Tumbling in helix. 4.75/5.0
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