Urne’s Serpent and Spirit is one of the most extraordinary and eclectic debuts of 2021. Although the band draw from a well of distinct influences, the album as a whole is difficult to categorise. What would you call it? Stoner thrash? Progressive sludgecore? All the separate elements of their sound have been heard before, but I don’t know if they’ve ever quite been put together like this. Within the first few minutes of the album’s nine-minute, self-titled opener, the London three-piece manage to effortlessly invoke such lofty reference points as Baroness, Machine Head, The Atlas Moth and Killswitch Engage beforebreaking into a chorus that sounds like a mashup of Mastodon and “Dirty Black Summer”-era Danzig. The band themselves describe their sound as “hopping between sludge, tech-metal, doom, hardcore & anything else with a weighty heart”, amid shades of Metallica, Mastodon, Death & Alice in Chains. Many bands have made similarly lofty claims, but few have pulled of such a combination as impressively as Urne. Hear the proof for yourself then keep on reading to see what other acts helped inspire Serpent and Spirit.
Joe Nally – Bass and Vocals
Death – The Sounds of Perseverance (1998)
With Death I always feel like my favourite album changes about twenty times per year,
but I always come back to this album. I know people love this album and some don’t rate it but for me it ticks a lot of boxes. The structures, riffs, solos and even chucks higher pitch screams really capture what I like. This album came along during the Control Denied writing sessions. I think you can tell that, and I believe some of the songs were originally supposed to be part of that project. Chuck Schuldiner made a sound that people twenty years after his passing are still trying to recreate and people crave, yet no one comes close to. I would love to have seen/heard what else Chuck would have given the world of Metal. King.
Standout tracks: “Bite the Pain”, “Flesh & The Power It Holds”, “Spirit Crusher”.
Machine Head – Burn My Eyes (1994)
This is the best Machine Head album. The energy it gives off is something else. The production still sounds amazing, and the songs stand up so well 25+ years later. I love Robb Flynn’s vocals on this album. He had a rawness that he hasn’t had since, and the songs he wrote for this are classic. A real key for Burn My Eyes was Chris Kontos on drums. The parts that guy wrote are unreal and damn he hits hard. I wish this line up stuck together as I think they could have really become a massive band. There are certain parts in Urne songs which definitely tip the hat to Burn My Eyes.
Standout tracks: “Block”, “Death Church”, “Davidian”.
Angus Neyra – Guitars
Nevermore – The Obsidian Conspiracy (2010)
The final album we ever got from Nevermore back in 2010. Yet, over a decade later this record still has some of the most aggressive riffs, strong vocal melodies, and insane guitar solos. People tend to either love or hate Warrel Dane’s vocals, but for me his style really adds to what the instruments offer. Whilst everyone’s playing on this record is stellar, for me, Jeff Loomis outdid himself with what he achieved, especially on the previous two records. When I heard this for this first time, it made me realise there’s always more practicing to do. The chord progressions never really go where you expect them to, the rhythm ideas cleverly go off kilter without losing song momentum, and overall you end up with a classic sounding album but for a modern era.
Standout tracks: “And the Maiden Spoke”, “She Comes in Colours”, “The Obsidian Conspiracy”.
Opeth – Watershed (2008)
Like with Death, everyone’s favourite Opeth album ends up changing from time to time, with the different eras and progression of their sound over the years. But for me Watershed blended the best of their heavy albums with their more progressive sounding albums. Being the last album with any heavy vocals, I love the way they contrast, especially on tracks like “The Lotus Eater”. What excites me about this album is that it really takes you on a journey. The interesting song structures, instrument layers, and timbre’s get you hooked. Of course, the guitar work and tones are amazing, and something we definitely tried to capture on Serpent & Spirit.
Standout tracks: “Heir Apparent”, “Burden”, “Hessian Peel”.
Richard Harris – Drums
King Diamond – Fatal Portrait (1986)
It’s very tough to decide between King Diamond and Mercyful Fate, and then even tougher trying to pick a favourite out of so many excellent albums, but I’ve chosen King Diamond’s solo debut Fatal Portrait. The songs on this album are much like that of Mercyful Fate: short spooky heavy metal stories that tie in with one another, with plenty of hooks and solo’s etc. But I think it’s the guys King Diamond brings into his solo project that make it such a success and help to structure songs in a way to really benefit the lyrics and his vocals. Trying to top the first two Mercyful Fate records is no mean feat, and with expectancy levels at the time being sky high I think they do an incredible job. Andy LaRocque has written some iconic and crushing riffs and Mikkey Dee caps the whole thing off with a standout performance. In my opinion high pitched vocals over metal are the most metal thing ever, and King Diamond nails them. One of my favourite records of all time, for definite.
Standout tracks: “Lurking in the Dark”, “Halloween”, “The Lake”.
Rush – Power Windows (1985)
I got into Rush as I got a bit older. I’d read many interviews with bands I love (Opeth, King Diamond, Dream Theatre, etc.) about this band “Rush” and decided to check them out. I checked out their first album first, naturally, which I actually believe is a mistake because, as good as it is, it’s very Led Zepplin influenced. Neil Peart hadn’t joined the band yet and it just doesn’t sound like Rush. I think with such a stunning and varied back-catalogue Power Windows doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Maybe it gets overlooked since it was during the bands ‘80s break away from insurmountable ‘70s prog opuses and a move into synth-heavy, catchy, incredibly well played and structured songs influenced by new wave pop. The drumming on this record is no less incredible than Peart’s earlier work and possibly even more diverse to suit the different genres and world music influences growing within the sound. As a fan of ‘80s synth pop and ‘70s prog, this is the perfect blend of the two with so much to discover with every listen.
Standout tracks: “Grand Designs”, “Mystic Rhythms”, “Emotion Detector”.
Serpent and Spirit is out now, through Candlelight Records. Head on over to their Bandcamp page to grab it!