Serpentent – Mother of Light Review

If all you want is raw riffs, skull-crushing rhythms, or dissonant aggression, you’ve come to the wrong place. Serpentent’s debut full-length Mother of Light flirts casually with distorted guitars and heavier percussion, but there’s no metal to be found here. The brainchild of Seattle multi-instrumentalist Anne K. O’Neill, Serpentent plays minimalist dark folk music built around O’Neill’s emotive vocals and acoustic guitars. Spring 2022 has set a high bar for folky non-metal around these parts, with Urferd releasing an intricate slab of Nordic folk and Darkher continuing to set the standard for introspective doom. Mother of Light doesn’t quite reach those lofty heights, but it’s a pleasant surprise in a crowded genre.

Serpentent’s formula is simple. Mother of Light unfolds around haunting acoustic guitar melodies and O’Neill’s pared-back vocals, which bring label-mates Jess by the Lake to mind by sounding at once hypnotic and expressive (“The Fountainhead of Fire”). Although Mother of Light is a solo release, it’s a team effort. O’Neill’s performance is accented by Joseph M. D’Auria’s stellar percussion performance that resembles Darkher at her softest, while bass lines from Dylan Desmond (Bell Witch) weave in and out. The cherry on top is the guest instrumentation, like the serene flute parts from Worm Ouroboros’ Lorraine Rath (“The Fountainhead of Fire,” “Sonette an Orpheus: IV”) and the presence of keys, strings, and synths throughout. These elements unite into deceptively simple neofolk that ages well over several listens, despite feeling bare-bones at first glance.

Mother of Light’s strength is its immersive beauty. Highlight “Winding” pays homage to Agalloch’s timeless “…And the Great Cold Death of the Earth,” starting with two acoustic chords and embellishing them with evocative vocal harmonies, emphatic timpani, and a stalwart bass line. Mother of Light has no shortage of such gorgeous moments, with tracks like “Ancient Tomes,” “Sonette” (which would fit snugly on Nico’s Chelsea Girl), and “Fountainhead” laying down rousing melodies that coalesce into engrossing songs. Serpentent has a knack for writing seamless transitions by establishing compelling central themes and chaining ideas together with the utmost care (“Ancient Tomes,” “Sonette”). These highlights would hit even harder if they were accompanied by an equally meticulous production job. Mother of Light’s master doesn’t always allow each instrument to shine during the record’s climactic moments, which is a shame for an acoustic album.

Mother of Light is a 64-minute folk album; you can probably guess exactly how it goes awry. The album’s pacing starts off strong, with the first half excelling by virtue of memorable motifs that never overstay their welcome. Even the ten-minute behemoth “Sonette” remains engaging throughout, as Serpentent splits the song into bite-sized chunks to avoid dwelling on any idea for more than a few minutes. Cracks begin to show with “Ой, ти місяцю,” an out-of-place a cappella Ukrainian folk song that leads into bloated blotches “Death” and “Mother of Light.” These tracks aim to be gripping dirges but feel like a drag, as their stagnant insipid melodies fail to strike a chord. The rest of the album partially redeems these missteps. “The Fountainhead of Fire” front-loads its most beautiful melodies but relapses into milquetoast meandering minimalism for too many of its 12 minutes, while tranquil closer “Rise & Fall” feels concise and impactful albeit derivative. Mother of Light lacks restraint, and its second half falters as a result.

The score below doesn’t do justice to Mother of Light’s peaks or its valleys. Serpentent’s debut is lovely to listen to with your eyes closed on a quiet Friday, losing yourself in each strum and each beat. Mother of Light’s thoughtful layers and graceful transitions demonstrate a level of maturity that surpasses most other albums, let alone most debuts. But its blemishes are lengthy and difficult to overlook, preventing much of the album from matching the emotional power of its remarkable first half. A few big-picture tweaks like aggressive editing and cleaner production would help its successor hit even harder. In the meantime, Mother of Light is a worthy if flawed dark folk record for a rainy day, and Serpentent is an artist to watch.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: V2 mp3
Label: Svart Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: May 20th, 2022

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