Friday, May 21, 2010

Serpent Eclipse - Thy Bleeding Heavens

Serpent Eclipse - Thy Bleeding Heavens
2001, Void Sector Recordings

Stylistically, I hear Mayhem, Manes, and Thorns all over this. And so I experience both a sense of easy familiarity, a remembrance of things past, as well as a crawling revulsion while listening to if my conflicting opinions/feelings about the Norwegians were being forced into a small space by this American band - cramped and confined and made to share each other's bile. As far as one-man black metal bands go, however, Serpent Eclipse (which, I am guessing, is just a project, a series of experiments) is excellent...superior, even. Much of the relaxed fluency and fluidity of this material is no doubt due to sole member S. DeFusco's almost intuitive grasp of Norwegian melody, and he has either been following that scene's progression for some time or is uniquely capable of reproducing its aesthetics. This is even more Norsk sounding than what Mayhem is doing these days...or Satyricon, or Zyklon, or any of those bands. And because DeFusco has labeled this release as a sort of 'nostalgic' return to what excited him in the first place in black metal, the 'raw, hauntingly atmospheric' nature of which has surely been lost, it is a simple task both to absorb this recording's messages and then comment upon them: they plug right into what I already know of the European black metal scene. To be sure, there is a unique sensibility at work here, the mind of an individual who is seemingly outside of the main currents of dark music - or at least the black metal underground - and this is heard in the electronic aspects here: the keyboards, the drum machine programming, the intro and outro, the darkwave/techno influences, etc. But for all of that this is still extremely derivative - not exactly to a fault - but enough so that I want to hear what he can create without unconsciously/consciously paying homage to the past.

This is not to say that I deride or regard the electronic elements here in a derogatory fashion...quite the opposite, in fact, as DeFusco is talented at their manipulation and without these additions/foundations Serpent Eclipse would lose at least half of its atmospheric impact. Keyboards are never the problem with black metal, it's just how they are used that often gets bands into trouble. Here they are such an integral part of the music that to deny them would be to cripple the band...

This promo opens with the aformentioned intro 'The Seven Desires', a swelling choral landscape of Sirens and wind, lasting for a mere three-quarters of a minute, just enough to set the mood correctly before the title track is initiated. This next song, 'Thy Bleeding Heavens' (Whose? God's?), lets one feel immediately the entire stylistic apparatus of this band: the short, clipped, immaculately processed guitar riffs (expertly played, expertly planned), atonal, dissonant melodies that resolve themselves into stirring paeans to darkness, rapid staccato blasts of machine snare and snapping cymbals, a distorted, caustic vocal attack (which reminds me of Bathory more than anyone else), and circling/engirding synth fills. Throughout this (very short) promo's sixteen minutes, one is constantly being submitted not only to historically precise (meaning: clearly/cleanly traditional) melodies and their logical variations but also a number of catchy, hook-laden riffs that suddenly appear, swimming up from beneath the surface, only to disappear just as quickly. DeFusco does not waste his time or ours with a number of lengthy musical expositions, his guitars just make a statement, repeat it to build up the structure of the song, and then move on to something else. This constant cycling or concatenation of musical segments is very enjoyable...

I especially admire the abstract melodicism, the short, stuttering, lightning-quick riffing of the fourth song, 'When Purity Crawls to its Grave', which not only evokes Norway but also accelerates through a few thrash tempos/rhythms almost as an afterthought. The last vocal track, 'A Sorcerer's Suicide', features, again, some inspired guitar work in tandem with an eerie descending keyboard melody, or alone as a foundation theme (starting at 22 seconds into the piece) which speeds through the song's scant three point five minutes as if it had somewhere else to be...something else to do. This song proves to me, if none of the others do, that this band (or this man, by himself) is probably at least twice as talented, musically, as the rest of the decrepit, backwards black metal 'scene' in this country. Beautiful.

Let cold minds rejoice....

Highly recommended for those of you who admire this sort of modern music.