The creeping regularity of life has toppled many; for some, it’s the barrel of the next coffee-fueled third shift staring them down; for others, it’s another dreary adventure in cubeland. For me, it’s every death metal band that I’ve never heard of from Southern Europe. Given my less than stellar history with bands from the Mediterranean region, some part of me relishes each chance to review a new band, hoping that they’ll be the hidden gem I wait for. The larger, less stupid part of me knows that I’ll slap a score between 2 and 31 on it and forget the cover by next year.
Enter Karma Violens, a Greek four piece with a vague symphonic flair and some sort of interest in mythology. If it worked for Nile (past tense), I suppose it could work for anyone, and to my surprise, it does work here. However, the preposition needs to be modified. Karma Violens‘ influences work with them rather than for them, as it’s really the band’s chemistry and sound that make Serpent God a worthwhile listen rather than their little flashes of flavor.
The band seems to skate through the most vexing obstacles set for a death metal album with ease. Exhibit A: the mid-album stretch. The three-song unloading of “Dark Morel”2, “A Letter to the Worthless Chamber,” and “Radix Malorum” dish the album’s most compelling blackened riffs, and their straightforward structuring doesn’t get in its own way. Perhaps not the most adventurous approach, but as the last Throne of Heresy album demonstrated, a band can get pretty far with just these few ingredients.
Yet few they are. The band keep things simple even in their more dramatic moments — see the midsection of “Dark Morel” — and as a consequence rarely pack the punch one might hope for. The riffs are all there, but little else can be said of them. They lack heft and inventiveness, and no matter how well the band executes their material, I’m left wanting something more from these songs.
Serpent God would lose the lion’s share of its personality if stripped of its vocals. Growler Marios Dupont’s raspy proclamations are upfront yet seamlessly-integrated, and his voice matches the instrumental texture of the album. Karma Violens‘ compositions base themselves in riffs, but they’re of the non-flashy variety, leaving room for everyone to contribute. The band’s uncredited drummer lays down all manner of tight cymbal work to complement the dry guitar tone, and the album’s mix remains transparent no matter what the band throws at it. Serpent God sounds very much like a well-performed live recording, keeping studio polish to a minimum and letting the music speak for itself.
Karma Violens never stray too far from black/death roots, yet I find myself enjoying Serpent God. Most musicians need to work hard to differentiate themselves from the pack, and the individuation process itself is what weeds out so may up-and comers and turns them into grizzled has-beens. Yet a few of those lucky bands that keep chugging on (literally, in the case of death metal) blunder into success without a clear musical signature — but they just sound good. Nothing special sticks out about Serpent God, but whether by chemistry or by accident, Karma Violens feel like a complete and in-control band here, an there’s a charm to their middle-of the road record that altogether baffles me. Yet I know that, serpentine or not, when I finish writing this review, this god will be dead to me. For as fun as it is in passing, I can’t see myself reaching for the album again.