If you’ve been even a casual reader of our coverage of modern black metal here at Heavy Blog, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the
batshit insanity dissonant stylings of Serpent Column. Two full-length records and two smaller mini-LPs/EPs into an already stunning and notable career, the mysterious passion project spearheaded by one Theophonos has made significant waves in the world of underground black metal, and with good reason. Distinct in sound and intensity, Mirror in Darkness was one of our favorite metal records to be released last year, and I’m not alone in my infatuation with the raucous cacophony this project conjures. Endless Detainment, Serpent Column’s second compact offering, dropped last week and suffice to say it’s everything we have come to expect from this project and then some.
In the larger scope of Serpent Column’s work, each smaller release seems to almost be an addendum on the full-length record that preceded it. 2018’s Invicta took some of Ornuthi Thalassa’s thrashier concepts and further refined them into a shorter, more experimental and lo-fi manifestation that served as a stylistic bridge to the pitch black madness that was last year’s Mirror in Darkness. Each new release feels like an additional piece to a puzzle that only has a resolution in Theophonos’ head, and we’re all just along for the ride. Endless Detainment further bolsters this perspective by unleashing the darkest, most chaotic maelstrom of Serpent Column’s career thus far, pushing the band’s sound into some wild and unrelenting places.
Opener “Pantheoclasm” is absolutely furious black metal that picks up right where Mirror in Darkness left off, except with even greater intensity (if that’s possible). The guitar tone is razor sharp, and the drum work is both top-notch and on initial pass utterly schizophrenic. It’s the sound of absolute rage run amok, and at first blush feels like a veritable soup of disparate musical themes and chaotic riffs that are barely held together, if at all, by Theophonos’ previously established scorched earth approach to songwriting. But closer examination reveals a tangible method behind the madness, and as Endless Detainment progresses this intentionality only becomes more stark. These are carefully considered, deeply intentional tracks that use sonic chaos as a blunt weapon, masking to great effect some thoroughly adventurous (and discernible) songwriting choices.
“Manure in Pearls” begins the process of sonic solidification that corrals the untamed nature of the record’s first two tracks into something a bit more direct, but no less violent or interesting. Centerpiece “Wars Waged in Private I and II” further builds on this narrative by showing Serpent Column at peak intensity while injecting some shrouded and deeply aggressive melody into the proceedings. It’s here also that Theophonos’ sense of groove becomes more readily apparent than at any stage of his previous releases, with a sequence of riffs that should get every head in the room banging like there’s no tomorrow. All of these elements reach their zenith in “Άράχναιν”, which combines both the record’s most erratic and focused elements into a seething pit of black metal genius that is one of the most riveting tracks I’ve heard in a long time. It’s here that Serpent Column finds itself in new and profoundly enjoyable territory, balancing unrelenting aggression and chaotic instrumentation with a profound sense of focus and propulsion that no one else in the black metal world is able to match at this quality of execution. It’s truly next-level shit.
From its opening notes through its absolutely blistering finale, this short but mighty release is a wanton display of masterful craftsmanship that does not in any way dull the base insanity that makes this music so compelling. Black metal is spitting out absolute fire thus far in 2020, and there’s no more concise example of its dominance over the metal landscape than Endless Detainment. Fans of bands as wide ranging as Dodecahedron, Altarage, Mitochondrion, and Teitanblood would do themselves a great disservice by not giving Serpent Column’s entire catalog a fair shake. There are few making black metal this intense and carefully considered, and if this level of quality continues, this project may well end up sitting atop a pile of dead among the genre’s greats. Riveting stuff.
Endless Detainment is out now via Mystískaos.