Night Cobra – Dawn of the Serpent Review

Snakes are as metal as skulls and demons, and nighttime is when all the fun, sketchy things happen. Ipso facto, Night Cobra is a spectacular name for a metal band.1 Especially for one throwing back so hard to the early 80s that they probably suffered slipped discs and Romulan back gout. On their Dawn of the Serpent debut, these Texas-based retro rockers deliver a mix of NWoBHM and early American power metal with similarities to other backward-looking projects like Visigoth. But not every serpent gets its day to strike, and even the most aphotic of cobras can run into the occasional midnight mongoose.

As if to stress that this is an 80s-centric offering (because that striking cover art should do the job just fine), opener “Run the Blade” starts with super creaky old-school synths straight from any third-tier late 70s/early 80s sci-fi flick. Once the ball gets rolling Night Cobra hit a groove between acts like Saxon, very early Helstar (i.e. Burning Star) and Jag Panzer (circa Ample Destruction). It’s somewhat of a mixed bag musically, managing to be nostalgic and time-tested but rough, raw, and highly unpolished. Christian Larson sounds like a way less refined version of Visigoth’s Jake Rogers, and when he goes for those ear-splitting falsetto highs, it’s not good. Despite the rawness and spotty vocals, there’s some minor fun to be had thanks to solid riffing and the authentic retro mood. Cuts like “The Serpent’s Kiss” and ” Lost in Time” are well-written old-school chestnuts with catchy, fist-pumping riffs and high-flying solos, but these otherwise worthy tunes are let down by execution issues, usually due to Mr. Larson. He’s decent when he goes for a rough Paul Di’Anno-style delivery, but the more he tries to actually sing his lines, the worse things get for all involved. This is especially true on tracks like “The Neuromancer’s Curse” and “Mortal Danger” where his vocals approach aural waterboarding levels.

This is depressing since the band can write legitimately fun, throwback bangers I really want to support. I enjoy the core of songs like “Black Venom Dreams” and “For Those Who Walk the Night,” and at their best, they remind me of Starlight Ritual. I also admire how musty and olde the stuff sounds, as if uncovered from some dust-coated box in the attic labeled “Hard n’ Heavy Stuff 1984.” There are endearing guitar harmonies and a vibrant energy I appreciate. They’re just hamstrung by Larson, especially when he adopts the poor man’s King Diamond/Harry “the Tyrant” Conklin schtick. The band also does themselves no favors by including a two-plus minute synth piece that adds nothing but does arrest the album’s forward momentum. The muddy, murky production is also a hindrance, submerging the guitars in a soupy morass when they should be front and center kicking your asp. Instead, Mr. Larson commands the lion’s share of the mix, which is a strategic misstep, to say the least. The saving grace is the album’s brevity – at a mere 34 minutes, serpent length is not the issue here.

The guitar-work by Brandon Barger and Bill fool is capable and at times moderately impressive. They craft convincingly authentic riffs from the time period they admire and the driving leads keep every song alive and at least mildly interesting. The bass playing by Trevi Biles is also a boon, giving the material a wee bit of Cirith Ungol charm and edge. I’m not out to bash Christian Larson here, and I think he could be a capable frontman with some practice and self-restraint. He’s mostly fine when he keeps things simple and avoids long, drawn-out notes. Sadly, his performance here leaves a lot to be desired and frequently limits my enjoyment of what is otherwise respectable material.

Dawn of the Serpent is like an unrefined diamond wrenched from the filthy earth. With time and effort, it may turn into something sought after and valuable. Or it might end up coating some industrial drill bit. It’s too soon to know for sure, but Night Cobra can write good songs, which is a fine place to start and provides them some wiggle room for improvement. While this is an amateurish trip to the past that I shan’t be returning to, I will be keeping an eye on this particular serpent going forward. No steppy on sleepytime snake.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 267 kbps
Label: High Roller
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: February 11th, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. And let’s assume for the sake of decorum that the band isn’t making cheesy, scaley double entendres with the name and album title.
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