Creativity is a fickle beast. On bright days ensconced in melodious excellence, these words bound forth like an ever-flowing stream. Others? A wall of emptiness and muted cinder blocks mortared upon dark grey concrete. We yearn for the music that evokes the former but Liber Null, unfortunately, does not. So here I sit, swilling my scotch, wondering how to convey just what about I – The Serpent fails to strike me. I pray this is quick because I know it won’t be painless.
With seething smoke against the faint toll of a church bell, Liber Null welcome you to their debut with an abridged passage from Nietzsche’s The Parable of the Madman.1 Despite promo materials suggesting death-inspired blackness like that of Marduk or Watain, the ensuing well of despair ofttimes settles into a depiction of a less vicious, less interesting Behemoth. When not digressing into momentum-killing philosophy, “The Unrepenting Son” proceeds with expectant sound and fury but fails to impress. The sound is not messy — in fact, it comes across as well-tended and carefully crafted. I find no fault in Liber Null’s effort, only their execution. Mediocre transition riffs and elongated bends (not to mention a second spoken word section) are never expanded to conclusion or allowed to fully unload. Absent highlight or memorability, “Son” simply dissipates into the ether, carrying with it 8 minutes of my time.
A noticeable lack of brightness permeates I – The Serpent, starting at the top. I’m aware black metal isn’t renown for a sunny disposition; rather, I would like to see distinguishing factors highlighted and expanded in both execution and production. Liber Null connect a hell of a lot of dots (as you might expect from a band featuring Thorns2), ranging from the frosty Immortal summits of “The Heretic’s Tongue” to dabs of post-black atmosphere on “I – The Serpent.” These puzzle pieces flesh out the body of the album, but without playing them out, their tepid nature feels underwhelming and undercooked. Window dressings are nice but only if the walls around them aren’t crumbling into the foundation. Aspiring shredder “Below and Beyond” is Liber Null’s most glaring whiff. With the shortest runtime and a head knocker of an intro, it should realistically put bodies in the pit and horns in the air. “Below” kills all momentum in the cradle instead. Its stop-and-start breaks and uninspired chugging rhythms offer a barren yield worth only another trip to the bar. Likewise, “Unholy Cosmology” was this close to landing in the pro column. The track offers tight kit work from Thorns and a catchy second half bridge that begs for further development, but more tempo problems and droning incantations force the song off the rails right as it gets going.
Tidbits like this are common across I – The Serpent; small instances that give me pause and force me to wonder if the band is looking for success in the right places. The fire-and-brimstone atmosphere is hard to miss, but it detracts from the album as a whole. It’s no coincidence that the most effective cut on Serpent avoids this meandering altogether. Eschewing Satanic dalliances for Norwegian riffs of yore, “The Heretic’s Tongue” is the lone exception to the album’s fits and starts. Ades unleashes the best riffs on the album while mic-man Psaalm spouts pure venom despite an over-filtered production. If nothing else, the track illustrates that Liber Null are quite capable of engaging work when they finally get rolling.
Being garbage in totality would be one thing; I’d slap a 1.X on this bad boy and be on my merry way. But Liber Null are not devoid of promising elements; their inability to let loose is only a terminal deficiency because they allow it to be. Rather than write them off entirely, I choose to believe that the band has it in them to come back with tighter focus and a commitment to getting my blood pumping. I may be done with I – The Serpent, but I hope I’m not done with Liber Null.