Stoner metal is not known as a particularly inventive genre. Though improvements to equipment and recording techniques have allowed bands to push the boundaries of heaviness, the basic musical template has remained pretty static since its conception. That said, there is little sweeter in the metal world than a stoner doom band totally crushing a hammering riff, however many times you’ve heard it done before. In the Company of Serpents are another in the crowd of riff-worshippers aiming to perfect this process with new EP Merging in Light. The band are really going all out with this record, releasing it on sexy colored vinyl and in limited quantities. Is the music a match for such a lavish package?
The band achieved some critical success with their previous two full-lengths, which, while worthy additions to the genre, didn’t quite hit my sonic G-spot. These releases fell somewhere between Electric Wizard and Church of Misery, and the new EP continues in the same vein with a healthy mixture of filth, groove, and drone. Opener “Breed, Consume, Die” is full of swagger considering its depressing title, driving forward with Holy Mountain style riffs, while follower “Third Mind” is designed for straight-up headbanging rather than pelvis thrusting. Third and final track “A Union of Opposites” ventures into darker territory with a brooding intro and black-metal influenced tremolo-picking sections. All solid stuff, but it doesn’t get any closer to bringing me off than the last two records.
In the Company of Serpents are limited by playing as a two-piece: Grant Netzorg handling guitars and vocals while Joseph Weller Myer batters the skins. In a genre that demands plenty of low-end, the absence of a bass player could have been crippling. Fortunately the production is thick and deep enough that, while the melodic and textural variety that a bass might have offered is absent, you don’t miss the low-end. The downtuned guitar tone is truly thunderous, and the album is dense and heavy even when chords are eschewed in favor of single-note riffs. Meanwhile, Grant’s vocals sound like he’s spent years competing with Cronos in glass gargling contests. The drums are heavy and natural, complementing the music well. The guitar sound remains extremely overdriven for almost the entire EP, though, and such a thick sound inevitably results in a pretty low dynamic range.
This highlights In the Company of Serpents’ key failing as a band: they rely on their perfect sludgy production to carry riffs that, for the most part, are barely above average. This presents them with a dilemma: if they attempt to increase their sonic diversity with cleaner tones the musical shortcomings are left exposed. But without this kind of textural variety, the EP is monotonous. Playing as a two-piece means that they can’t rectify this problem by altering the instrumentation during a song, and they haven’t yet figured out a way to compensate.
Merging in Light’s short EP length is, then, somewhat of a blessing, and if you’re in the mood for some seriously sludgy stoner metal then it’s worth giving it the 22 minutes it demands. On this showing, though, it’s hard to get that excited about their next full-length. In the Company of Serpents need to figure out a way to overcome their shortcomings as a two-piece other than just filling the frequency spectrum with a massive guitar tone if they are ever to achieve doom nirvana.