DUNGEON SERPENT – World of Sorrows (2021)REVIEW

By the beams of the moon, now rising over the tranquil ocean, and by the last gleams of day, the poet lights the beholder of the tomb of Empire, and gives him voiceless solitude, in which to hear, from mournful ruins and triumphant nature, “the moral of the strain.” Louis Legrand Noble, The Life and Works of Thomas Cole, N.A.

Violence and time-crumbled works of aspirational artists ultimately resolve into natural elemental states, in dust there is no certain extinction of forms but dissipation of any meaningful arrangement, at least without the right mind to act as the proper vessel of carriage and reformation. The vapid surface-level circus of “modern” melodic death metal is typically the folly of dim-witted hearts with no meaningfully attached fingers to nostalgic impulses, or, any true experience with tragedy beyond the slow arc of a bored existence; Emptied and pouring of nothing, the status quo has long devolved into songcraft we could view as postural ridicule of the origin of the melodic death species. As youthful fixation with mortality evolves into pessimistic philosophy the outlier muso lands upon dark poetry and sickeningly raw and sophisticated melodic romanticism as the ‘proper’ response to crumbling purpose. There we find the righteous path of melodic death and a lineage upheld by high ambitious standards and in the case of Vancouver, British Colombia-based solo artist Dungeon Serpent humble means make for earnest textural feats that ring back to the early 90’s advent of the sub-genre. Their debut full-length ‘World of Sorrows‘ may give the impression of an artist on a modest budget yet there is precedence in the past and a voice of his own here in the present that are sure to not only convince but enthrall the elitist melodic death metal fan within.

Formed in 2018 by a musician under the name Arawn the goal of Dungeon Serpent thus far appears centered around the heavier, brutal side of melodic death metal in the early 90’s which largely excused itself from the indulgences of the popular Gothenburg scenery beyond the second At the Gates album. We could meaningfully source key impetus for this particular sound from Eucharist‘s ‘Demo 1‘ but instead of following bands like Excretion and Decameron on that same thread this particular ear aims for a specifically hard hitting niche which we can find closer to the mid-90’s in Intestine Baalism‘s first demo ‘The Energumenus‘ which presented some clear influence from Dismember as well. If we begin to observe all of Dungeon Serpent‘s artistic decisions be it the logo, cover art, and layered guitar tone we get a clear picture of ‘true’ melodic death metal as it evolved beyond this Swedish impetus towards the high melodic accomplishments of bands like Arghoslent. From the artist’s perspective mentions of Molested (Norway), Vehemence (United States) and Mi’gauss give us a strong hint of not only this mid-90’s evolution of melodic death but also the stronger threads of it brought in defiance of the early 2000’s peak melodeath popularity; So, we can surely discuss in detail some clear love for ‘God Was Created‘ and ‘Anatomy of the Beast’ as we approach the first demo from the band (‘Promo‘, 2020) but as we move on to the finalized version of ‘World of Sorrows’ we see all of these influences coalescing into a sort of “remastered demo” quality recording that thankfully holds up beautifully by the time we’ve achieved full immersion into the major voice of Arawn‘s guitar work.

To preface some of my general comments on the recording quality, I’d initially come across this album as a self-released digital version which I believe hadn’t yet been remixed and mastered into its current state. This heavily informed my first impression of the album before it’d been picked up by a label. It sounds like they’ve redone some aspects of the programmed drums to make them sound more organic for this final version. Either way I’d been completely impressed by ‘World of Sorrows’ even in its most raw state, primarily for its evocative melodic presentation and the fine line they draw between the previously listed influences. That original version sounded just slightly more like one of my favorite deep cut records from the Slavic death metal world Apoplexy‘s ‘Monarchy of the Damned‘ albeit with a more sophisticated or, patient melodic palette that’d skewed to ‘Galloping Through the Battle Ruins’ and such. Intricate but brutal and rarely straying to a heavy rock/Gothenburg headspace outside of some rock solos ala early Carcass (see: “Decay”). For this refreshed version of the album the de-emphasis on drum volume and additionally boosted guitar on the mix still feels cluttered but only when the main HM-2 sized grunt of the riffs collides. That said, this disintegrating aspect of the heavier guitar parts feels olden, nuclear-stricken and works well enough with the mournful tone that Dungeon Serpent often take within their tragedian high fantasy lyricism. It rings of muscle and mind, still inherently brutal and venomous but able to carry a tune in such a way that some potential poetic movement guides the larger experience, and memory of.

The lasting charm of teenaged Swedish death metal rests upon the notion that many of those young men were quite talented, ambitious, and not at all ready to present their ideas — The smaller idiosyncrasies that’d arisen and characterized that era came with the need to fill in gaps of knowledge and technical ability necessary to meet an yet to be identified industry standard. The urgency of their capture, ideas that were deemed ‘album ready’ before they could be executed perfectly, was a large part of what sustained death metal proper well into the mid-90’s and, yes the payoff for this rambling on my end is that sitting with Dungeon Serpent‘s debut gives me this same feeling, a beautiful idea borne from an unpretentious husk that insists on value via songcraft and implied style above polish. Well, that and the riffs are considered and crafted into meaningful enough statements that the stench of the classics is invoked. “Cosmic Sorcery” speaks to the most classic instincts of Scandinavian melodic death metal in that it begins with grand fanfare, an impressive ‘dark metal’ guitar hook, thoughtful leads and thick layers of harmonized rhythm guitar work and in the space of seven minutes finds another even bigger hook before… kinda just fading out with a mild reprise for the last few minutes. This is where I’d suggest Dungeon Serpent doesn’t take a step beyond the piecemeal songwriting of their biggest influences and instead aims to hit a similar melodic/tonal standard, to either great or average results depending on the piece. The title track, “World of Sorrows”, hits the higher end of composition on the album with its multi-stage presentation hitting its darker edge around ~6:45 minutes in (or, just over halfway) and edging into the finale of the piece as slow and gradually as possible. I highlight the last two pieces on the album first for the sake of suggesting that the thrill of the first three might carry such powerful riff-stoked momentum that listeners may overlook the less eventful second half.

That said, the first half of ‘World of Sorrows’ is well worth any hype that it receives for being an ancient and arcane melodic death metal record. “Necroscope” again emphasizes Dungeon Serpent‘s ideation of the slow and meaningful build, counterintuitive to most suggestions this is classic Arghoslent-esque ‘epic’ introductory statement to my ears along with the requisite surrealistic hard rock solo which mimics the larger melodic notion of the main riff and extends it. We find logical extension of this idea in “Decay” but now revealing the artists obsession with Intestine Baalism, a connection to the mood and movement of “Necroscope” that makes good sense. This leaves the least-obvious best piece here in the center of the album as “Immortal Incubation”, where I’d felt the guitar work was at its least referential, especially the strike into the riff around ~2:08 minutes that continues to phrase the song through to its conclusion. It is moments like these where I can say that I’d really wanted to like this album more as an “easy” listen but every moment of acclimating to its patternation was redeeming for its stylistic puzzle, idea rich arrangements and simple melodic forms and rarely as a “pleasure” listen. The listening experience was a bit all over the place for me to start, appreciating the amount of focus that it took but never getting the “huge riff” payoff I’d gone in expecting based off of the band’s influences. Still, I would not dismiss the quality of what is in front of me as anything less than “great” and I am convinced the execution will escalate a reasonable amount with each release. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:World of Sorrows
LABEL(S):Nameless Grave Records
RELEASE DATE:July 16th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Melodic Death Metal

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