Serpent Column
Kathodos


4.0
excellent

Review

by tectactoe USER (4 Reviews)
October 9th, 2020 | 61 replies


Release Date: 09/30/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Soundtracks for the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

In Mulholland Drive, there’s a scene where Justin Theroux is auditioning women for a role in his upcoming production. As he sits in his director’s chair and sifts through headshots, an eerie, unknown male figure approaches him, points to a specific portrait, and monotonously utters, ”This is the girl.” Now, try to imagine yourself sitting in your dwelling of choice, flipping through a monstrous heap of generic black metal albums, looking scrutinously for a new piece to add to your regular rotation of hardcore filth. As Serpent Column’s Kathodos finds itself at the top of the stack, nothing about its cover especially distinguishes it or indicates that it would be massively different from any of the other cookie-cutter black metal releases piled in your lap. The instant you go to fling it toward the rest of the preliminary discard pile, you feel a clammy hand rest forcefully upon your shoulder. You weren’t even aware that anyone else was in the room with you. But it’s me. Afraid to fully turn around and see exactly who the stranger might be, you nervously cock your head to the side and catch a glimpse of me in your peripherals as I tell you with ironclad hubris, ”This is the album.”

I stumbled upon Serpent Column, the one-and-a-half man project from the mononymous Theophilos, sometime last year. I remember not how his sophomoric album, Mirror in Darkness, made its way into my queue; what I do remember, though, is how surprisingly fresh it sounded for a black metal album, almost to the extent that I questioned its “blackness,” per se. There was something unique about it - the angularity, the winding riffs, the Byzantine percussion, the constantly shifting structures; this wasn’t just any ol’ black metal—it was black metal that graduated at the top of its AP Calculus class. Not to imply that traditional black metal isn’t smart or intelligent or thoughtful, but typically it needn’t be—along with certain genre labels, damning as they may be, come certain expectations. Phrase complexity, time-signature gearshifting, and dynamic architecture are usually low on the list of what one might reasonably encounter in black metal, a category whose cornerstones exhibit relentless simplicity and deliberate under-production. His subsequent EP, Endless Detainment, was an even greater departure from genre impositions, foregoing framework completely and resembling something closer to an aural sketchbook of violence and chaos than a cohesive record. It was clear that Theophilos’s desire to experiment eclipsed his willingness to conform, even if that meant alienating a few purists and conservatives.

The term “avant-garde” has lost a lot of weight over the years thanks to constant misuse and oversaturation. Nowadays it feels more like an empty attention-grabbing catchphrase than a substantive appraisal, and I’ll admit that I tend to recoil a bit when I see it plastered on anything that remotely diverges from the median. But taken at its literary face value - ”new and unusual or experimental ideas; unorthodox or daring; radical” - in the context of metal music, Endless Detainment truly was avant-garde with its exotic blend of various subgenres that sat at opposite ends of the spectrum. (To say nothing of its manic layout and amorphous composition—I’ve listened to the damn thing a few dozen times and the song sequence still catches me off guard.) While my love for this extremist experimentalism was tried and true, it is admittedly not the most palatable offering out there, and while traditionalism always runs the risk of being boring, unwieldy abstraction can be equally enervating for entirely different reasons. I can’t say I agree, but I certainly understand the common complaint that entropy to this degree is not superficially pleasurable beyond mere artistic merit. And so when I skimmed some pre-release reviews of Kathodos calling it a “return to form” with respect to its bombast predecessor, I was nervous that Serpent Column might have rescinded the grotesque edge that made their contortion of black metal so arresting.

Two-thirds of the way through the album’s opening track, “Departure of Splinters,” however, and all my trepidations effervesced into thin air—I was in good, fully-assured hands. It’s evident almost immediately that this album won’t quite be the rollercoaster of unfettered mayhem and disorder that Endless Detainment was, but more important, it revitalized my faith that adherence to some semblance of form, however slight, can be beneficial if not crucial. Furthermore, it reinstated the idea that I didn’t necessarily adore Theophilos’s experimentalism for its own sake but the alchemic way in which he superimposed it over a musty template in nearly diametrical opposition. Really that is what continues to impress me about Serpent Column’s body of work: They borrow formulae from numerous tangents and tendrils of the metalsphere—from avant-garde to math, from hardcore to progressive—but never eviscerate the essence of black metal upon which they’re built. If tasked with whittling Kathodos down to a single descriptor, I don’t think anyone would settle on “mathcore” or “progressive metal” over “black metal”. This is undeniably, almost objectively black metal, and yet describing it only as such feels insufficient and shortsighted. But that, of course, it what sets it apart from its brethren. Where else will you find the unquestionably dissonant atmospheres and hammering walls of sound congruous with black metal mingling so elegantly with the labyrinthian guitar phrases and multidimensional drum sections often associated with mathcore?

And despite having a more recognizable shape than the unhinged EP before it, Kathodos sacrifices not intensity nor ingenuity; the third track, “Night of Absence,” clocks in at a succinct three minutes: the first two are an unexpected but welcomed snippet of dark and foreboding ambience, while the last is a hotbox of nasty, unearthly carnage that quickly descends into a blackened cacophony of distorted guitars, hyperactive drumming, and the frenzied, anti-melodic squeal of amplifiers on the verge of blowing their fuses. The track immediately following, “Dereliction,” concludes with an exercise in dissolution, the music breaking down to a cyclic stiltedness that resembles a machine whose engine is running on fumes but refuses to surrender. The back-half of “Pathlessness” contains a percussive dexterity that would make most prog-metal drummers blush (Danny Carey eat your heart out). “Offering of Tongues” closes on a guitar solo that recklessly, indisputably shreds—the type of neck massaging and tremolo picking you might find on the latest and greatest thrash record. And for those who wouldn’t be satisfied without a genuinely Warholian exercise in numbing austerity, the final track is ten straight minutes of four chords repeated over and over with zero variation. (Okay, I’ll cede - maybe that was a bit much.) But miraculously, this panoply of influence and fluctuation never diffuses the relentless thread of aggressive black metal that penetrates every other nook and cranny. Surely, some black metal pundits will crucify this for its iconoclasm; avant-heads will undoubtedly claim it’s not enough. But this is, to me, the most unctuous marriage of Serpent Column’s two distinct camps, where both conventional and nonconformist ideas congeal into a cocurricular lesson on the outermost boundaries of what we consider “black metal.”


user ratings (57)
3.8
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
tectactoe
October 9th 2020


3593 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Hoping this will prod at least a few more people into checking out this excellent (nearly one man) band. The dude has not had a bad release yet, and this is the culmination of everything he's done so far imo.

Anyone put off by his EP earlier this year should still give this a shot.

Digging: Spiritualized - Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space

Slex
October 9th 2020


10590 Comments


Dude this is a killer review, deserves a feature

Band is so sick, still need to listen to this in full

Digging: Palm Reader - Sleepless

tectactoe
October 9th 2020


3593 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks man - maybe one of my mod buddies can help me with my front page debut :^)

In all seriousness, completely agree with you - everything this guy has put out so far is great. Rapidly becoming one of my favorite contemporary metal artists.

Ziggity
October 9th 2020


1293 Comments


Mirror in darkness was a little much for me, but surprisingly I dug the ep more. Probably since the shorter length made it an easier listen for me. Will check this at some point.

TheNotrap
Contributing Reviewer
October 9th 2020


15280 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This guy is talented. I've been enjoying his discography for the past week.

Great jam, I'm glad it was reviewed. I read it tomorrow

Digging: Akhlys - Melino

Evok
October 9th 2020


8286 Comments


You beat me to the punch!!! Wicked album this one is. Props on such a damn fine review :]

Digging: Ninze and Okaxy - Blurry Mind

tectactoe
October 9th 2020


3593 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks Evok! Wanted to write something for Endless Detainment for a long time but never did - figured I would get a jump on this one while it was still fresh in my head 😅

Pikazilla
October 10th 2020


13282 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

One of the weirdest similar bands sections I've seen on this website

Ziggity
October 10th 2020


1293 Comments


Yea it is lol. I have no idea why the armed or even Frontierer are on there.

Dewinged
Contributing Reviewer
October 10th 2020


22203 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I trust you blindly tec, will check.



(Plus I remember you rec'd me this guy some time ago)

Digging: Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou - May Our Chambers Be Full

Wildcardbitchesss
October 10th 2020


4523 Comments


This would be a lot better if the last track wasn't just one simple guitar lead stretched out over ten minutes.
Loved it aside from that, but I think I like the EP more.

tectactoe
October 10th 2020


3593 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Let me know what you think, Dewi - I really think you’d dig this one.

Nocte
Contributing Reviewer
October 10th 2020


12976 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

These guys are constantly on TheSpirit’s rec lists. Get up on it

DDDeftoneDDD
October 10th 2020


14469 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Does this follows the trend of their last EP?

I much rather both previous LPs.

Digging: Andavald - Undir Skyggarhaldi

tectactoe
October 10th 2020


3593 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

DDD- this is a bit closer to their second LP, with some of the angular flavor of the EP without going quite as bonkers. I think you will like this.

DDDeftoneDDD
October 10th 2020


14469 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

If its that I m gonna enjoy the hell out of it.



Enjoyed the rev btw!

tectactoe
October 10th 2020


3593 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks triple D, let us know what you think of the album! :^)

tectactoe
October 10th 2020


3593 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

*Sigh* I guess I’ll have to wait yet again for my first featured review 😭😭😭😭

alamo
October 10th 2020


3415 Comments


looks tasy, loved the ep

Slex
October 10th 2020


10590 Comments


Sorry Tec I sent it up the chain of command, hopefully they're just giving the other reviews a little more time in the limelight



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