All warnings heeded, all precautions taken are null when pestilence rides the wind itself, thickening the waft and darkening the sky with an abhorrent, unstoppably miasmic atmospheric dread. Atomized and ghastly prevalent in its suffocating mist-bound haunt this debut full-length album from Irish black metal trio Verminous Serpent is itself the spittle rich livraison urgente direct from the forked tongue of the beast. ‘The Malign Covenant‘ is an unexpected excitation of bestial darkness buried within, an exhumation of the primal psychic state for the sake of transformative invocation wherein slow-blasted ritualistic doomed physicality acts as a hammer upon the mush of the hive and a call back to the cave for lost minds. Call it a punishing bestial black-doom record if you will, the immersive and appreciably memorable craft found herein is simple yet effective enough in its twisted stomp around the pyre that it’ll naturally goad countless repeat listens for its action and not its slotted readability or well-respected membership.
Though Verminous Serpent‘s cult formed recently their line-up should roll many heads off the bat between key members of Primordial, Malthusian, and Slidhr all of which are categorically essential from my point of view. That is no guarantee that a side project will be anything more than a whim amongst established talented folks, though, and we shouldn’t go in expecting a… No, actually, this is band is great too but for a few unexpected reasons as we find each member playing a key role without simply relying upon what we’d all naturally recognize as their oeuvre. Case in point Malthusian guitarist Matt Bree is the star of the show here for my own taste as he takes up the drums as if dual-wielded shotguns on ‘The Malign Covenant‘, eating these recordings alive with his patient carriage of these spacious and slithering black metal pieces. If you’re as much of a fan of mid-paced “slow-blasted” rhythms available to extreme metal before black metal was a fully decided-upon “thing” as I am then this entire debut should offer masterful study of the brutality a simple doomed guitar progression and a maniac vocalist can bring at a jogging speed.
‘The Malign Covenant‘ is not necessarily a black/doom metal album so much as it is an exploration of the primordial black metal groove developed as the first step away from speed metal’s concurrent impetus, the major notes that bands like Samael and Mortuary Drape took to realms beyond Hellhammer (or, just “Call From the Grave” even) and transformed a determined heavy metal aggression into distinct tentative atmosphere. For an approximate realm in mind think along the lines of Cultes Des Ghoules and earlier Negative Plane for their more bashed at rhythms and connect that with the lingering nature of Head of the Demon and perhaps Werian to some degree when it comes to percussion. Pacing is the major point of immersion here as the play between walking, jogging, and running amok help to keep this five song ~40 minute record thrilling enough as a ride without needing pointed variety from one song to the next. The larger experience appears intended to be enjoyed in its complete run, at least that is the feeling I’d gotten as I began to see the logical flow from piece to piece and much of the captivation here comes from following the thread of riffs as it is applied. So, there are a few standouts but I’d imagine that point of focus would naturally shift over time since any point being the first riff is simply downstream along the same river.
Though the main event is directed by the interplay between the guitars and the drums in my ears that doesn’t set vocalist/bassist A.A. Nemtheanga out of the action as his prominent bass guitar tone helps to define each riff’s greater shape and the unique daemonic edge applied here per his vocals feels like something somewhat new within his range, aiming for a room filling snarl which tactically recedes to the background when the feature of a riff or transition is called for, such as during the final third of “Transcendent Pyre” where keyboards loom, riffs spiral in the foreground before the vocals return as a pack of animals. Otherwise I’d wanted a bit more of the shrieking moments from the vocalist (see: the last minute of opener “Seraphim Falls”) which briefly recalls a certain era of Darkthrone as much as it does eh, a spastic Barathrum moment.
Again, there are standouts as we continue beyond this point but they are echoes along the chamber, riff ideas that sometimes stand alone out of context but are even more charged in the midst of a full listen. If you skipped right to the leads in the final third of “Chasm of Nameless Bone” (~4:30 minutes in) you’d likely get why that is a highlight for the piece but you might have a much better time and get the full effect when sitting in their wind tunnel for a while longer and hitting that point naturally, the best parts of this album hit within the churn of it all. The exception to this rule is “Deaths Head Mantra”, a ~13 minute song which stands as a broader representation of the album’s atmospheric reach while still clearly landing as the tail of the serpent and the damning finale. For some this’ll all have felt a bit redundant after the second or third piece, others (like me) will find the full exploration of this sound and style thoroughly entertaining, mesmerizing even, within each full listen. This hypnotic quality doesn’t nullify the natural criticisms of Verminous Serpent‘s approach but a simple and effective sound which creates a brilliantly dark atmosphere that can entertain throughout a forty minute debut LP is not a terrible place to start and no question this is an exceptional debut. A high recommendation.
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