FOUL – Of Serpents (2020)REVIEW

Prophesied in ecstatic frenzied speech, shotgunned hexameter verses depicting paths towards man’s permanent ruin shake loose the bowels of the oracle’s audience. Clutching their hindquarters with as much social grace as possible they must sit and wait for her Sybilline congress to commence proposal of solutions to these divined horrors depicted. Singing with the eyes of the Moirai and an erratic flailing tongue, she scribbles on oak leaves what could be salvation or ruinous fuel for apocalyptic propaganda and plainly leaves them be, to the whim of the passing wind and the rush of those eager to appease the will of the Fates. Today we view the world from the eyes of vermin who’ve survived the incapability of well-intentioned civilization as cockroaches prone to answer the foresight of all spiritual congress with a dismissive wave of a tendril. The hissing tongues of serpent speech is all that’d stir action in ruthlessly sedentary piles of slime and waste — Human representation takes the form of a different writhing tongue in the mouths of putrid ghouls, from which the dripping sputum of murderous leadership speaks only to the most selfish predatory actor within. This imbalanced worm-holed mind is the final evolution of man and it is not for the sake of survival but a mutation that has already proven deleterious of the species itself. Remove thy hand, desist your clench, and let pour the parasites from this unrighteously shameful shitting of the self you’ve been resisting; Let pour ‘Of Serpents‘ and this freshly succumbing verminous reality via Seattle, Washington-based death/doom metal quintet Foul. Bask in their unrepentant clairvoyance, the writhing destiny of all men.

Few realms of obscurity exist within the now very well plumbed cadre of modernist takes on extreme doom metal and this is a relatively recent reality when considering the long history of (true) death/doom and funeral doom metal as very well hidden niche. The rush towards exhaustion of all possible tonal variation, extreme takes on pacing, and adornment (orchestration, electronica, sub-genre cohabitation, etc.) these last two decades most often either forgets (or, remains ignorant of) the righteous textural feats of progenitor forms for the sake of surface level sub-genre recognition and this is no certain point of fault so much as it is a nostalgic approximation that keeps extreme doom metal’s origins alive on meager life support. Point being that even a brush against Foul sends the mind reeling back through several generations of death metal’s doomed past (Rippikoulu, Cianide, Derkéta) recency (Hooded Menace, Desecresy, Disma) and present (Funeral Leech, Solothus, Mortiferum) without directly aping any one generation’s features. Remarkably unique vocal work and brutally effective doom metal riffing help to differentiate Foul but their music undeniably fastens itself proudly within the realm of atmospherically gifted death/doom metal hybridization.

Discovering this band’s first tape (‘Of Worms‘, 2018) came from scouring Bandcamp for an article I’d written on overlooked death metal releases that year and this partially came from the site recommending me releases similar to Cavurn‘s ‘Rehearsal‘ tape the year previous. Hell, I was even sure this was some evolution of that band at some point though it doesn’t seem to be the case. Much of what I’d said about Foul in my review of ‘Of Worms’ still stands as I dig through ‘Of Serpents’ in the sense that they’re trudging down in the lowest, sludgiest frequencies of gut-bombing ‘old school’ death metal’s more doom-edged riffcraft but I think most folks would agree that this debut full-length is pushing out something more ‘extreme’ than expected rather than dialing everything back to 1994 and slapping their logo on a pair of gym shorts. Vocalist TL is now a veritable mountain of sound, resonating through the very flesh of the recording and suffocating within his bellowed, throat-ripping vocals. ‘Sick’ in every sense of the word, this distinct mucous-lined expression provides a faintly Finnish gargle to the whole of Foul‘s sound until examined at higher volumes, where the layering becomes more evident and all-consuming. It truly sounds as if something horrendous has lodged in his throat, possessing the performer into this disturbing, extreme point of distinction. Foul‘ve done a brilliant job expanding on the vocal cadence of ‘Of Worms’ in an incredibly satisfying ‘over the top’ way that doesn’t go so far as to sound like a cheesy pitch-shifted pornogrind vocal.

But hey, we’re here for the riffs and/or the atmospheric qualities of death metal-centric death/doom metal style and in this sense ‘Of Serpents’ delivers on par with any of the finest artists you could think of. The balance of classic Incantation-esque rumbling furor and that sense of lunging into slow to mid-paced doom metal influenced riffs is pretty immaculate where you’ll never feel deprived of double-bass beaten crunching nor the existential dread of ominous doom. The immediacy at which opener “Vermisectomy” chunks into its first riff is an absolutely welcoming moment providing directional movement for the album right out of the gate. This is where I’m most reminded of Derkéta for the straight-forward nature of the introduction, the weight and the horror of the piece persists as what lies around each corner is not yet predictable. They do eventually swing into mid-pace and we get a bit more of the drummer’s point of view but the integrity of the piece, which structurally resembles a death-paced doom metal song, is upheld as it spirals towards its heaviest reprisal of that introductory riff. Lead single “Necrotizing Fasciitis Excrema” is only slightly more in the tradition of classic Finnish death metal for its extended watery lead guitar break in the middle and the set of riffs that follow, this is a reasonable point of introduction to the band’s sound but not fully representative of how varied and impressive the whole of the recording is. In truth this is the sort of record that only gets better as it progresses, culminating in a duo of songs that is truly representative of Foul as a whole.

If this album is eventually pressed to vinyl “Sybil of Serpents” parts A and B will certainly represent their own Side B at a combined ~18 minutes. Not only is this conceptual pairing an engrossing feat of focus with all oeuvre set in motion but man, is it a vacuum upon the mind as it plays. “Sybil of Serpents: (a) Destructratrix” is the most active mid-to-fast paced death metal hit on the album, showing they are more than capable of straight ‘new old school’ death metal movements but it is “Sybil of Serpents: (b) Vermifuge” that turns the greater event into a mind-shattering feat. Part B begins with what I’d consider a funeral doom metal vibe, and the piece progresses with clean guitar passage and speaking in tongues that intensifies and recedes in a few waves that meander for nearly a full four minutes until the song breaks into a barreling pace. The sensation of being lulled into a forceful punch is exciting enough but the aftermath is my favorite part of the record as they’ve saved some of their finest ‘Mental Funeral’-esque rhythmic motions for last. I am always hunting for death/doom music that feels as extreme and esoterically driven as groups like Ceremonium and (in terms of extremity, point of view, unique atmosphere) I see some of those qualities in Foul as I consider ‘Of Serpents’ as a whole following the final blast of the fifth and final song.

As an independent professional grade-but-underground death/doom metal record conjured with great taste and conviction Foul‘s debut album is a ringing success. The quality and character of ‘Of Serpents’ is unsurprisingly high considering their earlier output yet this record is not impressive solely for its upstanding amount of consideration and distinction but primarily for its inherently satisfying extremity; The full listen feels as valid as many of the classics I depend upon for greater death/doom sanity and I see great potential for even more memorable and intensifying results in the future. It has held up remarkably well on repeat since early July (~2 months) and as such I feel confident in giving a high recommendation for ‘Of Serpents’.

High recommendation.

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Of Serpents
Vermignosis Productions
RELEASE DATE:July 10th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Death Metal,
Death/Doom Metal

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