Sarpa – Solivagus Review

For 90% of the albums sitting in my review queue, there is a good reason why I chose to take them on. It’s just that, by the time I actually come to review something, I can’t always remember what that reason was, nor necessarily identify at a glance the 10% that have no good reason to be there. So it was when I pressed play on Solivagus, the debut from one-man Texan black metal project Sarpa. After rummaging around in my addled memory for a while, however, I had it: the promo blurb had promised me that Sarpa, although rooted in the black metal aesthetic, incorporates a lot of other elements, including some Afro/Latin rhythms! Have I got a blackened Sepultura on my hands or a misguided attempt to make world-music black metal?

Perhaps the introduction of some funkier rhythms shouldn’t come as a surprise from Sarpa creator, David Baxter, who is a drummer by trade, having manned the kit for Plutonian Shore and Škáŋ among others. Sarpa is, I believe, his first solo release, where he handles strings and vocals in addition to the drums. As such, I have no doubt that Solivagus was a labor of love for Baxter but my word there’s a lot going on. Ranging from out and out black metal (“Predacious Dimensions” and “Anguishing Reveries”), through blackened death and thrash (“Triad of Might”), to atmo-black and something that occasionally borders on prog (“Evanesce”) with a folk tinge (the title track), you get the sense that Baxter had a lot of pent up energy he’s been waiting and wanting to unleash.

Solivagus for the most part feels like Bathory run through a Ministry filter. There’s a sort of loose freedom to the black metal laid out in fairly sprawling fashion by Sarpa, with a pounding industrial aspect to much of the percussion, that ends up being not too far from Panzerfaust, with a little dollop of Midnight Odyssey’s most recent outing. While I don’t hear a lot of Afro or Latin rhythms in play here, which is disappointing, the drum kit is certainly busy and handled with skill. It’s also pleasing to hear a one-man BM project that doesn’t overly rely on blast beats. The thrashier parts of the record, like the riff that opens second track “Triad of Might” and the front end of “Anguishing Reveries,” have a churning energy to them that reminded me a little of something like Serpents Saints-era Entombed. Over the course of Solivagus Baxter leans toward a death metal growl for much of the vocals but also conjures up a decent black metal rasp, as well as an almost Quorthon-esque shout, which is multi-tracked across the later sections of album opener “Cleanse,” to good deranged effect.

Sarpa was, according to the notes accompanying Solivagus, “created to bend the laws of audible physics and more importantly, unchain the hearts of the fire born.” I’m not entirely sure what that is supposed to mean but, whatever it is, Solivagus does not get there. Far and away the best thing Sarpa does are the drums – these are varied and compelling, shifting smoothly from thudding intensity to blast beat fury into slower, syncopated rhythms throughout the album’s 48 minutes. The work behind the kit, however, stands in stark relief to the riffs on show, which sound fairly workmanlike. There are some nice moments though. I’ve already mentioned the opening of “Triad of Might” already, and there is also a melodic lead part way through that track that rips, while the unexpected drop into percussion-less acoustic folk at the end of the title track comes out of nowhere and is a refreshing breath of fresh air. Overall, the sound on Solivagus doesn’t help my ears, feeling really dense and compacted, with the drums slightly too loud for comfort, at times squashing the guitar.

Sarpa’s debut is a decent first outing. There is a definitely stuff to enjoy on Solivagus, with “Triad of Might,” the title track and closer “Horizons Worlds Beyond” all being solid cuts. Overall though, the record is overly reliant on Baxter’s work drums, which is very strong but this comes – for the most part – at the expense of more memorable, better crafted riffs and some of the songs feel meandering in nature. There is promise here but there is also a fair bit of work to be done if the laws of audible physics are to be coaxed into bending.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self-released
Websites: |
Release Date: June 5th, 2020

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