Serpent Column – Mirror in Darkness (2019) REVIEW

The potential bleakness one could emotionally achieve in times of solidifying trauma or those lowest points in life is perhaps the stuff that Euripedes were made of, so to speak, if not for the interventions of the Gods to tip any proverbial scale left or right of life and death. Deus ex machina is hardly a reality for most non-spiritual wretches today and the likelihood of a topple into self-defeat by way of a perceptible lack of character (fiber) soon pulls back upon the cloak of meaning the current population of fellowes persists with– That is to say a severe drought of self-examination is the result of no great spiritual guidance accepted into societies who’re attuned by the heartless savagery of a plainly primitive anthropocene future for all equal men. Enriched by the romantic destruction of the world ruled by cretins and alight with Heidegger‘s late principles of poetry and the inescapable grip of technology there appears greater ‘purpose’ achieved in the mellifluous hue-and-cry of ‘Mirror in Darkness’, this second gift of obsidian overflow by the hands of the enigmatic Serpent Column. Cumulative and well… deeply reflective, this continuation of forms is profound iteration from new angles, a new sturm und drang beyond the rational limits of the average mind.

‘Ornuthi Thalassa’ (2017) offered a torrent of exciting, courageous movements that’d captivated and wet my curiosity for not only the high-reaching compositional eccentricities therein but also for its intellectual examination of the end-times, the nature of all men, and with applications of classicist western philosophy. It becomes even more difficult to paraphrase what that album had meant to me at the time when considering what a dramatic paradigm had been introduced with ‘Invicta’ (2018) an experimental EP but, not in the cheap sense that so much extreme metal experiments; Instead it featured gorgeously strung bouts of melodious atmospheric and seemingly emotionally driven action that was no less architectural in its piecing together. It pulls an emotional dam into my throat to begin to consider the great work that’d see the fire of that first album and the inward dementia of the EP set so beautifully across one another for ‘Mirror in Darkness’. Chaotic in this overlay but not impenetrably realized, every brick that musician Theophonos (formerly Theophilos) lays is structure by way of an intuitively detailed nature. At no point will the flow be interrupted without meaning and in balancing the roaring, chunking hulk of the riff-centric unorthodox black metal Serpent Column (should be known for) with the loose-shouldered eclecticism of that ‘Invicta’ EP there is a truly stunning work in our hands and minds with ‘Mirror in Darkness’.

It shouldn’t be a great leap to take and perhaps I’ve arrived upon a simple rhetorical examination for the sake of the philosopher’s intent to be accessible but ‘Mirror in Darkness’ is a title that speaks volumes to its own internal examinations. Self-reflection, being, presence, all entitled the scholar to see maybe Sartre and surely Heidegger in this case. My own eastern-bastardized adoption of the ‘self’ as a concept finds known connection with certain western existentialism along the way so, I’ve surely worked my way into meaning from an odd angle. The prose within is littered with references to olden philosophy but this doesn’t indicate a strictly held obsession with the past, only a disdain for a regretful future. “Trudging through the moldering corridors of history / Beguiled by the promises of the polis / Ringing hollow across decades broken on the rack: / Freedom from brevity and vicissitude / A liberty utterly emptied of liberty.” from the grand opener “Promise of the Polis”, this incensed re-examination of the themes (musical and otherwise) focused upon in ‘Ornuthi Thalassa’ is lucid in its jagged fury and tuneful mourn. Those six and a half minutes already feel like an album’s worth of depth and maddeningly complex instrumentation that is both ‘progressive’ in scope between diabolically violent razor-whirling and quick strokes of rapturous light. The bigger picture finds a voice to the conflict between what I’d interpreted as ‘captive comfort’ or the captor’s embrace, largely gleaned from the phrase “Ogygia in perpetuum”. A releasing the bindings (societal, romantic, spiritual) of a normative life for the sake of true freedom does appear to be a part of the general reflection inherent to ‘Mirror in Darkness’ as a whole. It is, of course, open to personal interpretation.

It becomes difficult to put into words what exactly Serpent Column does musically because there is such a wild depth explored within that a casual description cannot suffice a sort of music that cannot be taken in casually. This is music intended with great focus and with a pair of great headphones. The mind-bending performances and experiential, meticulously detailed relentlessness of Deathspell Omega have always been at the heart of what Theophonos does with his guitar work but, as I’ve stated before, there is an jazz fusion/avant-garde metal stroke therein a la early Kayo Dot (the artist himself referenced ‘Choirs of the Eye’ in the past). I’d additionally pointed towards Krallice for the sort of inhumanly practiced and tight guitar performances, though I believe Serpent Column scales better on repeat listens in terms of impact and resonance thanks to not relying on unpredictability to hold interest. Today I’d go as far as saying one could listen to Botch‘s ‘American Nervoso‘ only to find some tighter semblance of certain techniques in songs like “Amphiclasm” on ‘Mirror in Darkness’ only with a much deeper sense of tempo, variation and well, everything. I’d likely said the same of ‘Synarchy of Molten Bones’ when it’d come out but this is perhaps more accurate in hindsight.

The only thing I believe I can guarantee after having spent roughly a month frequently listening to and analyzing this record is that it will undoubtedly leave the concerted listener entertained to the point of exhaustion and perhaps entirely mystified by the enormous scope of its righteously detailed contents. The ‘epic’ feeling of past Serpent Column efforts remains in tact but it now breathes as one part of an increasingly wild set of dynamics, that there is yet more room to expand upon the artists oeuvre is perhaps the main reasoning as to why I consider this one of the more exciting ‘black metal’ aligned artists around today. An independent mindset is admittedly another factor in this admiration and I was glad to see this ‘bedroom’ project transition to Mystískaos after the concerning cessation of Fallen Empire late last year. I wasn’t entirely ensured that the project would continue on with a full-length beyond ‘Invicta’ but that’d probably been a lack of attention to detail on my part; Some of the joy of discovery here lies in the surprise of getting so much of an album, such a big album, and really I’d probably spent a full week awestruck by what Theophonos had done in the short amount of time between releases. No doubt a certain skill level paired with an increasingly intuitive songwriting process yields such grand results but the release is experiential and not crafted into typical song structures, so it shouldn’t be immediately memorable for hooks so much as changes, big hits, colorful techniques, and energetic bursts.

This time around I’d say the full listen is necessary for immersion but many of the songs do become their own insular experiences that just happen to flow together beautifully and compliment one another within an often hauntingly melodic narrative. There are few projects out today that create with such an ear for detail and with such free-roaming movements defining the experience so, I continue to consider Serpent Column among the finer avant-black/progressive (however you see it) black metal bands out today. ‘Mirror in Darkness’ doesn’t ultimately feel entirely bleak and hopeless, in fact the sense I get is that for all of the turmoil and fury of the full listen it is a release of pressure, a rush of blood back to sustenance, rather than a pure curse upon all existence. Very high recommendation. For preview purposes I’d say the music video (a collaboration with H.V. Lyngdal) for “Amphiclasm” might be the cart before the horse in terms of built intensity but it is a fantastic introduction all the same, otherwise the beginning (“Promise of the Polis”) is exactly the right place to start. For my own taste “Warlords of the World to Come” is probably the moment that tipped the scales far beyond favor.


Artist Serpent Column
Type Album
Released September 9, 2019
BUY & LISTEN on Mystískaos’ Bandcamp! Follow Mystískaos on Facebook
Genre Progressive Black/Death Metal

Far apart in the wash of the waves. 4.75/5.0

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