Review Summary: An overlooked masterpiece from Japan.
Serpent is a melodic death metal band hailing from Japan. It should be noted that their albums are extremely hard to find, and that the band is rather obscure, so if you are intent on getting a physical copy of this album, good luck. I happened to stumble upon this band on uranium music back in my early days as a metal head, and upon listening to their song 'Cradle of Insanity', went on to dig for more of their stuff. Needless to say, I was extremely impressed by their level of technicality and sheer melodic mastery. It's rather disappointing that worthier melodic death metal bands such as these don't get as much publicity as mediocre mainstream giants such as In Flames or Soilwork.
The production is rather muddy and distorted, causing a younger me to mistake it for tr00 black metal. The guitars are well represented and rather trebly, but they snake through the songs in quite a sinister manner. The drums take over most of the background noise, but are distorted through an unintentional wall of sound that permeates nearly everything. The bass is barely audible, and the vocals echo and bounce off said sonic walls in the manner of a wandering spirit. The bleak production actually gives the music a devious edge not present in other clean cut melodeath bands, giving the impression of having a 'blackened' influence.' The production isn't exactly Paysage D'Hiver bad, but think of a muddier De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas with a more 'cutting' and high pitched sound to the guitars and you'll get the general idea.
The music is blatantly baroque influenced with a touch of japanese folk music added for good measure. The melodies are extremely bittersweet, and the first word that pops into my head when I hear the leads is ' poison.' Not the glam metal band mind you, but the actual word. Listening to this album is sort of like ingesting delicious candy, only to find out that it was laced with cyanide a few moments later, and then shrugging and continuing to pop the stuff into your mouth because it is simply too delicious. As 'happy' and 'bouncy' the melodies may seem at first glance, there is always a dark undercurrent pulsing beneath even the most saccharine moments. The songs are extremely well constructed, and slither with the consistancy of well....a serpent. To get the full effect, you must listen to the album as a whole, as the motifs repeat themselves a lot, but mutate like a well adapted virus to suit each individual song.
The musicianship is competent, but varies from instrument to instrument. The drums are of your average melodeath caliber- sufficient to carry the songs along, but not enduring enough double bass through the whole song like a power metal band or blasting/ fast d-beating through like your typical death/black metal band. I would say that the drumming bears a rather striking likeness to Scott Travis' performance of Judas Priest's 'Painkiller'. The guitars however, are of a virtuoso quality, combining the tremelo influences of black metal and a touch of neo classical shredding reminiscent of Yngwie Malmsteen if he were to slow down a touch. The bass is rather inaudible, so there's really no much to say about it. The vocals are insane, venomous, and full of passion. They are mostly black metal styled, but carry along a lot less croaking and a lot more raw throated screaming. Think Greg Puciato mixed with Abbath.
To put it simply, this is an extremely underlooked and underrated obscure gem, and I'll reiterate the point that THIS is what melodeath should sound like. In Flames started the prototype, but then left after Clayman to dabble in mainstream rock. Serpent carries along where Subterranean left off and built it up to extremes unknown to most melodeath enthusiasts today. This should have been a classic of the genre, but due to label obscurities and a lack of active promotion, it stayed extremely underground. Get this album if you're a self respecting metal fan in general. You won't be disappointed.