Serpent Ascending - _The Enigma Unsettled_
(I, Voidhanger, 2011)
by: Chaim Drishner (8.5 out of 10)
Here's yet another quality release from the house of I, Voidhanger Records. You would have to see it for yourself in order to fathom the extent of work involved in producing a fine booklet with those wonderful illustrations inside and on the covers; the package, the cardboard sleeve, all elaborately illustrated, covered with morbid, mysterious scenes and figures, along the lines of Weapon's or Nightbringer's artwork; dark horizons used as the perfect visual set for the music, the main actress, the fucking starlet, and it, in turn, corresponds willingly with its Stygian soundscapes.

Appreciate the artwork, read the fucking lyrics, appreciate the effort; they are an indivisible part of the album, whether you like it or not. Packages like the one this album comes in pay respect not only to the artist, but also to you, the consumer. Remember that.

Having said that, we're all serious and intelligent adults here, paying attention not to the facade but rather to the content of our music, and we never judge a book by its cover, right? In the case of I, Voidhanger releases you can judge an album by its cover and not lose a moment of sleep over it, as they walk hand in hand, the masterful artwork and the (usually) exquisite music. In the case of Serpent Ascending however, describing this Finnish one-man band's music as being exquisite would be a tad far-fetched; after all, we're dealing here with what is so-called old-school death metal, and this sub-genre of metal is anything but exquisite.

Earthly, yes; rotten, maybe; dark, definitely; subterranean, indeed; but also morbid, monolithic and punishing; these are far better adjectives that might describe the music of _The Enigma Unsettled_. Exquisite this music is not.

Coming from the age of old-school-ism myself, I have never understood the charm, the magic of this Neanderthal sound, the appeal of these cavemen-derived tunes on the masses. I guess it has something to do with the nostalgia factor that betters and ornaments any mundane and mediocre album out there. I think the majority of bands of today are better, more innovative, talented, daring and intelligent compared to these puke-gulpers of old, seriously. And it shows in the music. Of course there were exceptions which I'm not going to mention here, but they were few and far between. On the other hand, If they only had bands like Serpent Ascending...

The curiosity that is this Finnish one-man-band takes old-school into the extreme realm of primitivism, yet with an evolved, high sense of songwriting. Jarno Nurmi, the sole artist, strips metal bare-naked, takes the scaffold, the barren skeleton and dances with it. The music here is deadly, primitive yet supreme in its simple and direct delivery of tsunamis of brutish riff upon a riff of maximum distortion bliss and endless strumming. Beauty of ugliness is being born here, ugliness that illustrates the death of innocence and with it the death of the old times. The music never loses its grip on melody, and due to the fact it is mostly slow-delivered, it has even a greater impact on the listener with its doom-like vibes.

Ironically, this could also mean the end of old-school death metal, because what's next, after the ultimate, perfect mock-imitation album has been recorded, sounding more old-school than most genuinely old-school bands that ever walked the earth? What's next after the perfect death metal album of old -- the most primitive and yet beautiful in its own twisted way -- has seen the light of day in the science-fictional post-modern year of 2011? Sounding better, heavier, a ton more interesting and satisfying than the very ambassadors and godfathers of old-school death metal; what would that say about the whole sub-genre? Wouldn't the very concept of old-school-ism crumble and fall? Wouldn't an album like _The Enigma Unsettled_, having been recorded by a long-haired musician who's probably in his early twenties, redefine what is old and what is new?

The very meaning of old-school has stopped being relevant upon hearing this monster, because _The Enigma Unsettled_ can be judged only by its own qualities, devoid of nostalgia or any other biasing factor. This album epitomizes death metal. Period. Never mind whether old or new, this is death metal. Slow, bellowing, shuddering, thundering, morbidly melodic and as heavy as a freight-train. It is highly accurate in where it delivers what, and does not leave room for error or for chance. Everything here is prearranged, preordained, meticulously calculated and perfectly balanced.

It might be that this very balance of elements does the trick. Or the fact this music still retains its beauty and appeal in the face of its reductionist flair and minimalism attribute. Every lover of genuinely good death metal, the way it was supposed to be, having atmosphere, depth, violence, darkness and a supreme sense of melody, would be advised to give this beautiful beast a chance. Fuck the old school -- all Hail Serpent Ascending!


(article published 1/11/2011)

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