Review Summary: the masterpiece that is Serpent Temptation, truly deserves more recognition, as they arguable were never surpassed by any of their peers. Serpent Temptation is a milestone in both the death metal, and thrash metal genres, and true classic.
Man oh man does this album leave a mark. The original Incubus was a sight to behold back in the 80's and was responsible for what could quite possibly be the heaviest, fastest, most intense Death/Thrash ever committed to recording. For those who think Dark Angel, Sadus, Slayer, Kreator or Sepultura are the most extreme, you are truly missing out.
Originally from the thrash heaven of Brazil, the original Incubus were one of the first bands to successfully mix death metal, and thrash metal. With the release of their first demo, it was clear that these guys were one of the most savage bands in the entire 80's scene. Sadly, the crappy pop band eventually obtained the rights to the Incubus moniker, forcing the band to suffer a period of inactivity, as well making them have to change their name to Opprobrium. Still, what the incubus was able to do during the short time of their first incarnation was commendable, and in 1988 during the peak of the thrash metal genre, they released an album that could be the most brutal of its entire genre, and still sounds relevant to this day, featuring furious tempos and aggression, which very few bands even now dare touch.
What really sticks out on the classic Serpent Temptation album is the very tight and well executed riffs. Every song in fact, has a level on intricacy, not normally associated with bands of this extremity. When the band plays at slower tempos, they can come up with some on the heaviest riffs imaginable, and at the same time, they can switch to hyper fast tremelo riffing at the drop of a hat. There are many examples of semi-technical song structures and riffs that show the band's capabilities at this early stage in their evolution. Guitarist Francis M. Howard is incredibly talented, and his mind-blowing riffs and superior songwriting displayed here would get even better by the follow up, Beyond The Unknown. The insanely raw production of this album only does the guitar work more justice, keeping it sounding distortion sound like cross between the heaviness of Exhorder, mixed with that of Demolition Hammer. An prime example of the godly guitar tone is the beginning of the song sadistic sinner. The raw distortion creates an untouchable wall of sound. Right from the start, you know you’re in for a ride.
However, the true wonder of this album is the drumming. The hyper-snare style displayed here is very unique, and is primarily why I would consider this the fastest thrash album ever recorded. Many people consider the style here to be a blast-beat. While it is understandable why the drumming could be mistaken for blast-beats because of the lightning fast tempo, upon closer inspection, it clear that the drummer is actually using a thrash beat style, which to me is amazing. The drummer is hitting the bass drum before the snare (as done in a thrash beat), but he does it so fast, that it could match some bands using full blast beats, such as Napalm Death. To me that is an accomplishment in itself. There are literally bands out there that use full blast beats, that aren’t anywhere near as fast as the thrash beat style used here. For those who think that full death metal, and black metal bands using blast beats are automatically faster than thrash, think again. Never before (and never sense) has a drummer played the thrash beat at this speed! This stuff literally sounds like it could be grindcore at times, and it's all thrash. So sure, there are bands out there that use hyper blasts that sound inhumanly fast, and quite astonishing, but the problem is, everybody is doing this nowadays, and blast beats from one band, don't really sound that different from another. But, how many bands play thrash beats at what is normally considered blast beat tempos? The answer in one. That is why this band is so unique in my opinion. The played thrash at speeds that no other band dared to go. From Kreator, to Wehrmacht, to Dark Angel ect. None ever matched the ferocity of Incubus's "hyper-thrash beat", giving this band a unique sound, comparable to no other.
Another unique aspect of the band is the original vocalist, Scott Latour. His vocal style sounds shouted, yet growled at the same time. While Francis M. Howard would later become vocalist of the band, he sounds very close to Sepultura's Max Cavalera. In other words, he just doesn’t seem as original sounding as Scott. Every Scott says is very audible, and easily understood, in stark contrast to many death metal bands from recent times. This still doesn’t keep him from sounding like a mad bloodthirsty demon, in fact, the clarity makes his sound that much more intense than many vocalist from today. While many seem to complain that Scott wasn’t "loud enough", I find him to be more than adequate for the band's extreme style.
In conclusion, while the masses may claim that albums like Reign in Blood, Darkness Descends, Pleasure to Kill, and Beneath The Remains are instrument in pushing the limits of speed in the thrash metal genre, the masterpiece that is Serpent Temptation, truly deserves more recognition, as Incubus were arguably were never surpassed by any of their peers. Serpent Temptation is a milestone in both the death metal, and thrash metal genres, and was in many respects, a missing link in the evolution between the two genres. A true classic.