Dungeon Serpent – World of Sorrows Review

When you read “melodic death metal,” what do you think of? If your answer is “thrashy power metal with more chugging and harsh vocals” you’re not alone. I frequently avoid bands with the melo-death tag because that niche of the subgenre has a shallow well of inspiration and grows old quickly. Too often do I forget that Kataklysm is a melo-death band, and Sorcery is a melo-death record, likewise with At the GatesWith Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness. Both of these are the furthest thing from the cheesy version of melo-death. Thanks to The Nightmare of Being I’ve been on somewhat of a melo-death kick lately, which prompted me to take a chance on Canadian one-man band Dungeon Serpent and their debut record World of Sorrows.

Dungeon Serpent are, to my ears, primarily a turn-of-the-century melo-death band, taking much of their inspiration from Kataklysm’s Epic: The Poetry of War (2001) and Amon Amarth’s The Crusher (2001). It’s got minor-key consonance aplenty, taking melodic and riffing cues from At the Gates, Edge of Sanity, and Carcass as well, among plenty of others. Where Epic managed to make, well, epics out of short song lengths, Dungeon Serpent allows things to carry on for longer. Dungeon Serpent also avoids the simple structures of Slaughter of the Soul and Heartwork which emphasized the catchiness of their riffs.

Sole practitioner Arawn seems to have set out to write something which is the antithesis of the basest connotations of melo-death. Songs are structured in a largely linear fashion (as opposed to verse-chorus-verse “rock” structures) and contain a smattering of riffs per track, and the melodies tend to avoid being sugary. As such, “Immortal Incubation” tears through its riffs mostly linearly, reprising a scant few but notably bookending the song with the same pattern. The standout section is the extended lead, as Arawn has a knack for crafting emotive and effective solos. Opening number “Necrosphere” is the best merger of Dungeon Serpent’s influences, and the riffing is creative but remains in a clearly defined vein. There’s a downright triumphant Kataklysm-meets-Amon-Amarth riff which transitions nicely into a slow, post-Necroticism type solo section which eventually speeds up at the right time to conclude the song in strong fashion.

One issue on World of Sorrows is memorability. While it’s admirable to explore structures beyond basic ones, repetition can nevertheless be used to great effect outside of verse-chorus-verse songwriting (see Drawn and Quartered for a good recent example of this). The other side of the coin is that weaker riffs don’t overstay their welcome, meaning that Dungeon Serpent isn’t extensively backing lame horses. The upshot overall is that little here makes a truly lasting impression, but it’s good while it’s playing. Part of this has to do with the somewhat muddled identity Dungeon Serpent has on World of Sorrows. There are wild shifts from aggressive Swedish-flavored Kataklysm riffs to something approaching a Metallica riff with a soft, post-metal melody playing over top in “Decay,” and while it’s clear this solid solo section is supposed to be a climax, it sounds alien to the initial part of the song. “Cosmic Sorcery” does a solid impression of early Kataklysm before abruptly becoming something much more akin to Edge of Sanity, then shifting into an extended Amon Amarth gallop which occasionally gets trem-picked to good effect, then reverts to Edge of Sanity again before concluding on an extended piano and synthesized string outro. Individually, these parts are all decent. Welded together in the context of a song, it comes across as disjointed in a way the far more chaotic Sorcery never did.

Far as production goes, World of Sorrows is a mostly pleasant DIY affair. The bass tone is solid, the main guitar sounds good, and the programmed drums aren’t distractingly obvious. The leads stand out in tone and volume, emphasizing Arawn’s good work in this area. In “Cosmic Sorcery” there’s a clean guitar tone which sounds bad enough to detract a bit from the melody it’s playing, but that’s a minor quibble. Dungeon Serpent is the product of a wide-ranging vision and an extremely talented man. Arawn can seemingly play just about anything he likes, and he does just that here. Unfortunately, this scattershot approach to a sonic identity makes what World of Sorrows is trying to do more interesting than Dungeon Serpent’s execution thereof. Not bad by any stretch, but with more focus applied to the raw talent clearly present here, World of Sorrows will likely end up an interesting footnote when Dungeon Serpent’s sophomore record drops.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Nameless Grave Records
Website: dungeonserpentmdm.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: July 16th, 2021

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