I feel like a cover represents a lot of what an album should sound like. When I was in college, I found myself disappointed when the album art looks super interesting but the music didn’t seem to represent it. Imagine snow-covered album art that takes your breath away, but the music sounds more like Tetragrammacide and less like Coldworld and you can pick up what I’m laying down. Taking a look at Cleric‘s album art, it looks like something High on Fire or YOB would come up with, with tons o’ faces and weird symmetry and face-eating monsters and man, am I high on fire right now? So, you know exactly what to expect. Except you don’t.
Cleric‘s art feels like a misdirect to me. I was expecting doom with a generous helping of psychedelia, but that’s only partially true. This Dallas five-piece used to call the fuzz pigeonhole home, but their second LP, Serpent Psalms, is pure and potent death metal. While they still hearken to their roots with tasteful doom licks and a lovely fuzzy production, it’s a delightfully punishing affair full of crushing riffs, adrenaline-pumping roars, and energetic drumming. In their own words, their second full-length is “Swedish-style death metal that mixes in the elements of doom that [they] used to play. Think Entombed mixed with Asphyx and peppered with a pinch of Candlemass.” If this is the recipe, boy oh boy, is it tasty.
The most prominently ear-pleasing factor about Serpent Psalms is its death ‘n roll/grindy production, which recalls other Entombed worshipers like Nails or Black Breath; it adds a supremely listenable layer to an otherwise high class death metal affair. It toes a fine line, balancing suffocating fuzz and scorching crunch, as seen in tracks like brutal opener “Maw of Absolution,” nearly grindfest “Unending Spectral Bloodshed,” and the epic closer “Destroying Eye of the Self,” which utilize breakneck groove and fiery tremolo. Influences of Asphyx and Candlemass show up in doomy riffs that pile atop the menace in tracks like “Of Twilight and of the Grave,” “Satan, Be Thy Name,” and “Forever Coils the Serpent (Opener of the Way),” which add a nice reprieve from the deathy beatdown.
If there is anything to nitpick about Cleric, it’s their generally monotone sonic palette, as they certainly worship Entombed in their scorching atmosphere and groove-oriented riffs. As such, with the exception of doom-centered cuts, tracks often bleed into one another. “Lucifer Triumphant” sounds like an extension of “Maw of Absolution,” and “Possessed in Congress” slips by between its two solid bookends. There are also tracks that don’t live up to the highlights, the most prominent being “All Death Unseeing,” which derails the energy. While the doom riffs seem to provide reprieve, this track settles for lethargy, thanks to some not-quite-doom but sorta-doom riffs that are trapped in identity crisis. It is a miss track among the swell of hits, however, and frankly very easy to forgive.
There’s a whole lot to love about Serpent Psalms. It’s a crazy solid death metal ride full of the love of doomy fuzz. While it’s easy to categorize Cleric as death/doom, that’s not entirely fair, as it creates a dichotomy between the two, not a fusion—more an Ataraxie and less an October Tide. It leans hard into the death, creating a distinctly Swedish sound that punishes relentlessly with a production that balances crunch and fuzz. It’s easily digestible at a 39-minute runtime, which never overstays its welcome and suggests high replay value thanks to its lovely sound. Ultimately, it may be a shreddy Entombed-worship piece, but damn, it’s so much fun, it makes up for its somewhat derivative nature. It’s death metal through and through, and a recipe for a the yumz.
DR: | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Redefining Darkness Records | Raw Skull Records
Websites: cleric-us.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/clericdeathmetal
Releases Worldwide: October 25th, 2019