Serpentine Path - Emanations (Relapse Records)

Sludge, Trudge, Repeat...
Release Date: 
27 May 2014 (All day)

Serpentine Path give new meaning to the word "bruisers." Their very music sounds how bruises might --  evidence of a blotted and sickly impact, growing uglier before ultimately fading away. I was a big fan of their self-titled debut (Relapse Records 2012), which bashed together sensibilities of both death and sludge, calling the shattered remnants home. Comprising members of the now-defunct Unearthly Trance, along with refugees from Electric Wizard and seminal death-doomers, Winter, it's pretty safe to say this band has got mud for blood.

With their newest album, Emanations (Relapse), the fellows follow in some well-worn footsteps. Opener House of Worship reminds us of the damage wrought on their debut, the ringing chorus trudging toe-to-toe with more propulsive verse passages. The combination of a gloriously crunchy guitar tone with pummeling double-bass on numbers like Treacherous Waters communicates an inexact brutality that is equal parts Incantation and Eyehategod. Lovely. Meanwhile, Claws emerges as the undisputed banger of the album, introducing itself via a real horror-show warning siren, its climax, indeed, climactic, thrown off with classic Sabbathian wickedness. Disfigured Colossus spews forth some heinously chunky material, too. Torment moves from boot-sucking molasses to a more chugged-out pace that recalls Self Defense -era High on Fire, all before introducing easily the most off-kilter riff of the whole album and killing things dead. To my mind, this could have been the closing track; meanwhile, the relatively undistinguished closer Essence of Heresy lacks the inventive power of its more dynamic counterparts.

Which is all to say that there are many fine moments on this album. The problem which arises, and which also hampered their debut (heavy though it was), is a certain lack of differentiation, diversity, or direction. Damn near every track has something rad going for it, but song dynamics seem to be the Achilles' Heel of Emanations. Likewise, Ryan Lipynsky's vocals tend to reinforce set rhythmic patterns, so that songs feel all the more similar. You'd be hard-pressed to distinguish any one of these songs from its brethren, to the point that the riffs and moments which really grab you by the something-or-other and demand your attention can get lost in a mire of more or less similar structures playing themselves out over and over again.

You really can't knock these guys for not swinging the hammer hard enough. Indeed, parts of this album are crushingly good, and the band's overall sound is nothing if not satisfactorily heavy. As an album, however, there is a somewhat numbing similitude that permeates the thing. This, paradoxically, causes each song to feel oddly estranged from the next,  the band seeming to excavate its previous tracks for inspiration, with new riffs hung on old skeletons. Walking a well-trod path, Serpentine Path certainly stomp hard -- but this ain't exactly Flavor Country.