Cleric – Serpent Psalms

After parting ways with Tofu Carnage Records, the label on which they released their debut, the Dallas-born group of Cleric have resurfaced with a follow-up, just a little over half a decade later. Despite some line-up changes (though they’ve retained their cover artist, one of the high points of that first album) they are still serving up a solid forty minutes of tastefully executed death metal.

Their chops have been sharpened and tightened in the time since Gratum Inferno introduced them to the wider world, and with the songs flowing from one aching brutality to the next in impressively flexible form, they’re making sure listeners know it. Transitions from hammer-down beats to wide melodies on lead guitar are handled capably, turning on a dime from aggression to introspection, matched by the shifts between crunchy and keening guitar tone.

It’s easier to overlook the work put in by the drummer, due to the comparatively low-volume mixing it receives. But that would be a mistake, as there’s even more variety to be enjoyed in the assortment of rhythms he brings to the table. From steady blasts to complex fills, the percussive propulsion is reliably interesting and effective, and the mixing choice keeps it from being overbearing or exhausting.

The band succeeds in keeping the atmosphere coherent and compelling, with more than just unchecked aggression powering their shredding and stomping. Though it’s obscured by those dynamics, there are some melancholy traces to be heard here and there, and the contrast provided by those moments is just enough to keep the edge feeling sharp. They’re not bringing any drastic reinventions to bear, but it’s good, strong death metal, through and through. And as a resurfacing for the band, it should leave a glowing impression. Hopefully their next effort will emerge sooner than this one did, so they can keep up the momentum and good will Serpent Psalms earns them.

THE BOTTOM LINE
Good death metal with some interesting touches
POSITIVES
Cool guitar work
Flexible arrangements
Tonal variety
NEGATIVES
Repeatedly feels like they're about to cut loose into something really wild, but never actually does
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