Monday, 25 November 2013

In the Company of Serpents - Of the Flock (album review)

Rad cover artwork by Mike Lawrence.
The winds of change sometimes howl, but sometimes they whisper.  I caught on to Denver's sludge doom stalwart duo In the Company of Serpents last year when they released their mindblowing 6-song self-titled E.P.  The bulging muscular sound heard on the debut was like a musical caduceus of twin snakes named sludge and doom wrapped around the staff of prog.  Not only was the sound powerful and muscular, it was also energetic, heavy as balls and fairly extreme.  But no matter how far the band traveled down the arm of extremity, it wasn't nearly as extreme as the change that has taken place in the band's sound since they released the debut to the time that this new one has come out.  Gone are the head-nodding road anthems such as "Dirtnap" and "Immolation", gone are the easy-to-love songs and in their place comes a challenging bouquet of bleak and desolate soundscapes.  After a few months of build-up and anticipation 'Of the Flock' hit the streets and it was not what I was expecting to hear to say the least.  I was expecting a suitable follow-up, one with deeper grooves, heavier riffs and more muscular moments, not the black metal / stoner doom hybrid that it eventually was, but anyway, we'll get into it all presently and I'll try to explain why this album is both a howl and a whisper.

As I already said, the sound of 'Of the Flock' was already imprinted in the genotype of songs like "Immolation" and "Canto III Inferno" from the debut but hidden in plain sight so to speak.  These DNA strands of musical extremity have been characterized in the phenotype of the new album and are expressed as dominant traits.  After a short twangy intro, "Ash Swamp", the listener is confronted with the blast beat wall of noise which opens "Craven" before things ultimately settle down into a swinging stoner groove.  It's probably the most "mainstream" stoner doom sounding song with the groovy riff but is an interesting one right off the bat.  This is where the album begins to challenge the hardened stoner doom head because the emphasis isn't on that warm, fuzzy deep low end.  The guitar is tuned higher creating a grimier, razor sharp sound.

It's amazing how the simplest thing (whisper) can change everything (howl).  My mind reacts differently to 'Of the Flock' every time I listen to it.  Sometimes I hear bleak walls of noise, other times my mind can cut through that to hear the southern grooves beneath, but after several listens, the album is beginning to settle in to a consistently abrasive mood that is all it's own.  Strangely, the tone for the album was set by the closing track, "Untied / Culling Essence from the Void".  This was the pre-release "single" if you will and it bears none of the classic hallmarks of the pre-release single.  It's not catchy, in fact it doesn't have a popular kind of sound in any way.  It's not the kind of song you're going to find yourself shaking your booty to and singing in the shower for instance.  But it was an accurate reflection of what the album is like without sounding at all like any other song on the album.  It's heavy, it's melodically melancholic and it's dark slow.

In hindsight, the sound of 'Of the Flock' had been imprinted on the DNA of the songs found on 'In the Company of Serpents' all along.  The change on the surface between albums was of bombastic proportions and hit my ears like a hearty howl, I'm just talking about the change itself here.  But change that actually resulted within the music was an altogether subtle shift and so reported against the ears like a whisper.  I readily admit that the change in sound was not at all satisfying on a cursory listen.  However, sticking with it, moving beyond expectations and taking the album for what it actually is and not what I expected it to be, reveals something fantastic.  What is obvious is that In The Company of Serpents challenged themselves on their second go at it.  In doing so, they've crafted an album that not only sounds different from what they'd done before, but different from anybody else in the field.  And that's not something you hear everyday, neither is a howling whisper.

Highlights include: "Craven" and "Of the Flock"

Rating: 4.5/5

Total Run Time: 32:16

Grant Netzorg: Vocals, Guitars, Fuzz
Joseph Weller Myer: Drums, Apothecary

From: Denver, Colorado

Genre: Metal, Sludge, Doom, Black Metal

Reminds me of: That's a tough one ...

Release Date: October 31, 2013

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