Black metal is an incredible source of emotive music disguised in unwavering aggression. The advent of sterling releases from the likes of Gaerea and Sar Isatum, among others, has only reaffirmed that for me. Factor in my implicit trust in Non Serviam’s A&R and here I sit, anxious to give Swedish black metallers Blood of Serpents their due. From the “deep forests of Småland,” Blood of Serpents follow the same formula scribed by the likes of Marduk and Dissection. Their first album, Black Dawn, showcased mid-paced black metal constructed on a dependable foundation of solid riffs. With sophomore effort, Sulphur Sovereign, the band opted to take their foot and ram it straight through the metal. To describe Sulphur Sovereign as “full speed ahead” would be to commit severe understatement. Unfortunately, it is this very songwriting philosophy that has nearly damned Blood of Serpents’ sophomore effort to a sulfuric demise.
Sulphur Sovereign fires away like a minigun, with opener “Mater Tenebris” serving as the template for the waves of fury that dominate the album. Blast beats and trem-picked riffs riddle your defenseless ears like bullets ravaging the body. Vocalist Thomas Clifford deals bonus slashing damage with his raspy, throat-shredding screams. Atmospherics are kept to a minimum on Sulphur Sovereign, instead utilizing a relentless assault to conjure visions of the infernal. This serves to convince the listener that this album is going to rock your world by slinging you alive through hell and back. To a certain extent, it does. What the ballistic songwriting does not do is provide rewarding replay value.
Blood of Serpents spawned an album where everything bleeds together, the waves of fury crashing so hard they give me a headache. Exhibit A: “Mater Tenebris,” “In Darkness, Brotherhood,” and “Devil’s Tongue.” The three suspects before me are hardly distinguishable. They all start with the same exact tempo and what sounds like the same time signature. Each demonstrates an overzealous adherence to blast beats from start to finish. They even feature similar vocal cadence. Additionally, the riffing on these songs three sounds virtually identical. Compounding these issues is that these are the first three songs on the album. Aggravating matters even further, cuts from the back end of Sulphur Sovereign (“As Nocturnal Dimensions Beckon” and “Upon Waters Dark”) feel all too familiar, rehashing themes already explored. Without actively minding the media player, I would often misidentify which track was playing.
At least Sulphur Sovereign isn’t boring; far from it, actually. Sulphur Sovereign’s individual numbers may be undifferentiated, but they generate oodles of momentum. You’ll never truly hit a dead spot on Sulphur Sovereign, allowing its forty-seven minutes to feel more like thirty-seven. Track arrangement is partially responsible for that, putting mid-paced portions in prime positions to proffer well-earned reprieves from the onslaught. “As the Temple Burns” and “Prophet of a False Faith” are splendid examples. They both showcase creative cymbal work, exciting storytelling, a more varied vocal approach, and dynamic timing, making them far and away the highlights of Sulphur Sovereign. Blood of Serpents need more metallic excursions like those, where intelligently designed infrastructure takes precedence over velocity or brute force.
What this amounts to is a potentially killer album with a fatal flaw. The maleficence on display is palpable—as are the musicians’ technical abilities—and the album’s pacing is successful. However, there is a dearth of variety in the songwriting on Sulphur Sovereign that leeches my enjoyment of the whole. When Blood of Serpents direct songs to more interesting avenues, they embody greatness. Regrettably, seventy percent of this album is made of recycled material, making it difficult to recommend. Their first album confirmed the band possessed a knack for creating balance between ferocity and composition, so I know the knack must still be there. Here’s to hoping they find it next time around.