Nocturnal – Serpent Death Review

Of all the things we have reason to bitch and moan about in 2021, whether it be this goddamn pandemic, sports, politics, work, annoying neighbors or whatever frustrating societal issue is pissing you off in these turbulent times, I don’t believe thrash should be on the bitch list. Yes this timeless genre that was a gateway for many folks into the wider realms of metal, has had quite the fruitful year by modern standards. Led by killer releases from Paranorm, Cryptosis, Enforced, Nekromantheon, Demoniac and Demiser, its been a mighty fine time to get your thrash on. Which brings us to the latest album from unheralded German thrashers Nocturnal, entitled Serpent Death. My knowledge of the band was pretty much non-existent prior to this album, but further investigation determined these cats have been kicking out the violent, raw thrash jams since the turn of the century, releasing a stack of shorter form material and sporadic full-lengths. Serpent Death marks their fourth LP and first since way back in 2014.

Whiffs of classic German thrash acts Destruction and Sodom, spiced with early Slayer, and tidbits of the unhinged vitality of the awesome Desaster, seep into Nocturnal‘s own lively brand of blackened thrash. Nocturnal dip their thrash in a pit of coals and razors, delivering a charred black attack of no-frills bloody mayhem. Listeners enamored with the classic German thrash scene of yesteryear, and blackened thrash fanatics, might just find their fix here. Serpent Death kicks off with an eight minute epic, courtesy of barnstorming opener “Black Ritual Tower.” It’s an ambitious way to open proceedings, but largely works. Don’t be fooled by the lengthy runtime, as there are no trick shots or experimental surprises, as Nocturnal cram a shitload of riffs, thrashy aggression, energetic musical chops, deranged vocals, and manic high speed tempo shifts into the fray. Yeah if you look too closely you could find a reason to slice a minute or so off, but it impressively maintains momentum.

Serpent Death pretty much keeps the pedal jammed to the fucking floor, however, there are enough tempo variations, threads of melody and interesting axework to compliment their manic delivery and feral aesthetics. At its most potent, Serpent Death can be quite the exhilarating ride, exemplified on killer cuts like the insanely speedy “Bleeding Heaven,” cutthroat church burner “Void Dweller,” and sneering rage of “Damnator’s Hand,” featuring striking melodic lead work. Most the material works on some basic level, though certain songs rise above the pack and overall the level of quality is steady, without hitting elite heights, or entering ‘must listen’ territory. Still, the commitment to the cause and livewire chops leads to lots of headbanging fun, boasting serious attitude and venom.

Important to note for longer term fans is the line-up for Serpent Death is significantly different, with only founding guitarist Avenger remaining from their last album. As I have no clear point of reference with their prior output the changes are not a problem. The rhythm section is tight, laying down a strong foundation for Avenger to riff all goddamn over the place with reckless abandon. Meanwhile vocalist Invoker does an admirable job, his rough hewn thrash snarls a touch goofy and theatrical, yet still boasting ample rawness and aggression to fit the part nicely. The production strikes a sweet spot between unvarnished, garage vibe rawness and vibrant clarity, including an impressively dynamic master. However, Serpent Death slides down the quality scale in a couple of areas. The album is a little long in the tooth for the style, and the writing loses some identity; certain songs and sections guilty of blurring together and becoming a little samey interchangeable.

I’ve enjoyed acquainting myself with the old school rough charms of Nocturnal. It’s a endearing blast from the past and easy album to like, if difficult to fall head over heels for. It’s a solidly and exuberantly played platter, marred by some bloated songwriting and not quite being on a higher level to earn greater honors. Mileage may vary, but Serpent Death is a wildly fun, if not entirely essential hellride. Plus, based on the band photo and musical weapons of choice, Nocturnal are more metal than you, so give them a whirl.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Dying Victims Productions
Websites: nocturnal.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/nocturnalunholythrash
Releases Worldwide: August 27th, 2021

 

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