Weight Of Light

Written by: GR on 28/07/2009 11:37:32

In a sense, I wish SerpentCult didn’t exist. A strange start to what is a positive review, you many think. However, they came into being when doomsters Thee Plague of Gentlemen split in mid-2006 following front man Steve McMillan’s imprisonment for multiple child rape. Naturally, the other members completely disassociated themselves from Steve and “all his acts, deeds and comments”, their album was deleted by the label and a new band was formed.

SerpentCult (which was to be the title of TPoG’s second album) are that band and, unsurprisingly, follow in much the same vein as TPoG – crushing doom metal – but with a new and distinctive element: a female singer. Female vocals are a fairly divisive point within metal these days; and personally there are some female fronted bands I love (Benedictum, Firebrand Super Rock, Crucified Barbara) and some I loathe (Nightwish, Within Temptation, Epica). Whichever side of the fence you’re on, the clean female vocals on offer here in no way lessen the impact of this bunch of Belgians. On the contrary, singer Michelle Nocon’s voice complements the music perfectly and helps SerpentCult create a sound of their own. Whilst there are a few doom-influenced female fronted bands gaining deserved attention at the moment: the likes of Jex Thoth, Blood Ceremony and Rose Kemp; these have folk, prog and other influences and SerpentCult are a different beast. They have a more straight-up sound, albeit one with a down-tuned, distinctly harsh, metallic and even modern flavour, staying away from the bluesy/psychedelic end of the doom spectrum for the most part.

Now, most things that have passed muster with Lee Dorian and co. at Rise Above Records can be assumed to be worthy of investigation; and this debut album is no exception. "Weight Of Light" opens with screeching feedback before launching into its first slab of heaviness “New World Order”, a fairly fast affair which might be considered a ‘single’ if such a thing existed for a band like this. It’s certainly one of the shorter songs along with similarly catchy "Red Dawn" (which also appeared on their 2007 EP). With a band like this it’s hard to avoid comparisons to legends such as Electric Wizard; and in this case, especially in terms of heaviness. For my money, ‘Weight Of Light" was possibly the heaviest release of 2008 and songs such as the title track and the epic “Arkanum” have the Wizard’s mark running right through the guitar work.

That’s not to say the ’Cult are mere copyists, as they put their own angular, aggressive and distorted slant on the doom metal template, hinting at other extreme influences such as Celtic Frost; and managing to produce some pounding and semi-memorable riffs in the process. The start of penultimate track “Templar” highlights the sort of dense heavy riffing that characterises most of the album and is sure to get a few heads banging. The album closes with the self titled ‘Serpent Cult’, which descends into a five-minutes-or-so psych-out, making it a somewhat forgettable ending, but one which is enjoyable all the same.

It has to be said, though, that what makes this such an enjoyable release for me are the vocals. Michelle’s voice is by no means astounding – indeed, perhaps even a little monotonous at times – but it just /works/. The timing and phrasing of the vocal delivery fits perfectly with the music and she creates an atmosphere that just wouldn’t exist with a male singer. Also to their credit, the vocals are not over-used (it takes almost six minutes before any are heard on “Arkanum”) and thus do not come across as some sort of gimmick. That said, she won’t be to everyone’s liking and even a cursory internet search reveals as much.

‘Weight of Light’ is by no means a perfect album. At times it can seem quite samey and uninspired, with the way each track flows into the next possibly not helping on this front. Listening to the album as a whole, there’s a slight loss of momentum as it progresses, although when considering each of the eight tracks in isolation they stand up as decent pieces of doom in their own right. SerpentCult have managed to create an enjoyable debut with enough original elements to make them stand out from the doom metal crowd. Where they take their sound from here remains to be seen, but I will certainly be keeping an eye out for them. It seems the "Weight of Light" is a lot heavier than science would have us believe.

Download: New World Order, Red Dawn, Weight Of Light
For The Fans Of: Electric Wizard, Thee Plague of Gentleman, Jex Thoth

Release Date 06.10.2008
Rise Above Records

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