NOCTURNAL – Serpent Death (2021)REVIEW

An intermittently resuscitated effigy to die-hard blasphemic German thrash metal traditions, Mainz-entrenched quartet Nocturnal were giving us the ’85-’88 witching metal experience long before the craft would become a too-public habit among also-ran revivalist thrash metal sect across the globe. Gratifying as it might’ve been to drive stakes into the dirt early and claim high honors upon the blackened thrash metal landscape in both war and peacetime, founding guitarist and visionaire Avenger (Angel of Damnation, Front Beast, Sacrifixion, et al.) is yet thrall to seek an infinite war against foulest religion with the perfection of the decidedly Teutonic thrash metal riff as his major modus. We’ve always gotten classicist thrash metal without consideration for trendiness or timeliness from ’em but on this fourth full-length, ‘Serpent Death‘, we can consider Avenger & co. riders on a wave of timeless apocalyptic speed metal appeal as they come full circle with their latest attack.

The exit of longtime vocalist Tyrannizer (Necrosadistic Goat Torture) in 2015 and a generally shaky line-up ’til 2018 likely contributed to the bulk of the seven year gap between ‘Storming Evil‘ (2014) and this fourth album as Avenger soon on-boarded Slaughter Messiah drummer John Berry, and Wound‘s guitarist on bass, but it was the addition of new vocalist Invoker (Witchburner, Terrorazor) that seems to have made the most noticeable shift in overall dynamic possible. Whereas Tyrannizer‘s vocals had developed into a rasp-and-wailing narrative Invoker presents these songs in a gruff station well-suited for the intensified epic speed metal feeling of ‘Serpent Death’ which calls back to the band’s debut album just enough to feel like they’ve wheeled back around in view of their roots without losing the cleaner professional resonance of previous production values. In terms of broadly considered songwriting ethos, Nocturnal are still honoring the NWOBHM, punk, and early Slayer influenced song structures of classic Destruction and their kin resultant but, now extending those ideas a bit deeper a via the somewhat longer, more elaborate edge of bands like Witching Hour (see: “Circle of Thirteen”, “Faceless Mercenaries”) without pulling too far from their long established and steadfast mindset, which now offers its own evil-witching thrash metal magick to a few mid-paced pieces.

Achieved without compromise, ‘Serpent Death’ flails the banners of Nocturnal‘s signature sublime riff-to-ear engagement within these ten neck-gripping opportunities to reframe Avenger‘s riffcraft with focus upon dexterity and true heavy metal shaping rather than the ultra-kill modus he has already shown himself supreme within over the last twenty years. It is a subtle bit of change from any angle but one that lines up well with the original vision of the band as they struck out two decades ago after Bestial Desecration split in 2000. In fact there may be more than one small moment of déjà vu along the way as standout ripper “Circle of Thirteen” hits some of the same patternation as “Tyrants of Damnation” from ‘Storming Evil’, enough that it’d caught me off guard as we hit upon a couple of the guitarist’s ‘muscle memory’-engaged moments when calling for a certain type of semi-melodic riff function. In terms of my own listening experience this pings at the small bit of nostalgia the previous record holds within me but also makes a direct argument that ‘Serpent Death’ is everything Nocturnal have been in the past but well-improved in terms of sophisticated render, memorable melodic arrangements and sheer number of patiently stomped-out riffs.

For a ~48 minute traditional thrash metal album released nowadays ‘Serpent Death’ is impressive for its engaging guitar-driven reap, specifically their willingness to dance upon the grave-spinning madness of ancient heavy metal guitar melodies within tangential moments but, ultimately for its steadfast serving of distinctly unholy German speed metal attack throughout its runtime. The main highlights here for my own taste were the album summing “Suppressive Fire”, the punkish warps of “Bleeding Heaven” and the aforementioned major centerpiece “Circle of Thirteen”. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (79/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Serpent Death
LABEL(S):Dying Victims Productions
RELEASE DATE:August 27th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Thrash Metal,
Unholy Thrash Metal

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