Never heard of Serdce? I can’t blame you. The Belarussian prog-death group has been tramping around the metalsphere in undeserved obscurity since 1997 and Timelessness is the fourth(!) LP to spill from their obscenely talented hands and the first to be released by the metal messiahs at Blood Music. It’s my introduction to the group as well, and if first impressions are to be trusted, Serdce and I have a long future ahead of us.
So why is Timelessness so good? Everything.
Immediately obvious is Serdce‘s willingness to experiment and unabashed progginess – “Into Shambhala” is an entirely non-brutal, amorphous and beautiful saxophone-lead introduction to a subsequent hour of alternatingly breathtaking and neckbreaking forays into prog-death drawing from Cynic, Dream Theater, and even The Mars Volta. August company indeed, and Serdce makes elbow contact with them proudly. Timelessness is not the kind of casual, listenable “prog” album with manageable songs and reigned-in solos that I tend to like. Almost every song runs over six minutes and sports more noodling than a plate of Pad Thai; it’s involved, bombastic, dramatic and clearly an album rather than a collection of songs. Yet every song still makes its impact and rarely succumbs to the overindulgence of Serdce‘s influences.
Take, for instance “Last Faith,” which opens with melancholic piano and strings under Nik Goroshko’s beautiful crooning and then swings into full-scale Cynic death riffs and swaggering Dream Theater style fretboard grooming. Before the song’s halfway mark, Serdce has already spit out enough material for three different songs and show no signs of stopping. Why praise this? Well, because it’s good. Serdce may be committing the sin of self-indulgence, but it’s a victimless crime because every idea is effective enough to carry the song for as long as it needs to. Melodies are beautiful, especially those in “Loss of Feelings or Feelings of Loss” (when they’re not playing “Chocolate Rain”) and the music-box intro of “Omens.” And when the songs get heavy, Timelessness offers up some of the best ’90s prog-death riffs since, well, the ’90s. “Quasar” sports incredible riffs and groovy basslines reminiscent of Focus without ever feeling too derivative, and “The Sixth Sense” pairs some of the album’s heaviest and darkest riffing with characteristically strange melodies and a very memorable solo.
For all of its excellence, Timelessness still can’t shake some of the deficiencies of its prog roots. The songs flow together very well, but at the cost of sounding a bit abrupt when considered alone, and at over an hour long and full of emotional peaks and valleys, it’s an album you have to set aside time and suspension of disbelief to listen to. The songs do occasionally wander, but for the most part always end well and follow a logical progression across the span of the album, and even when Serdce stray into dramatics or questionable prog, they always perform well enough to back it up.
Timelessness is an easy release to overlook and takes a while to fully appreciate, but it’s well worth the time for metalheads, even the ones that aren’t prog-nerds. It can’t escape itself, but then again, it has no pressing need to do so. The fact that Serdce have made a 90’s prog metal album that’s uniformly enjoyable almost fifteen years after the fact is impressive enough, but even more laudable is that Timelessness succeeds without relying on throwbacks, technicality, or self-indulgence as a crutch. In a year where all three of those have been lurking around every corner, Timelessness is a a breath of fresh air.
Tracks to check: “Omens,” “Last Faith,” “Sixth Sense”