If you haven’t run across an album by In the Company of Serpents, that’s understandable. Since their debut back in 2012, all of their releases have been self-released, staying firmly in the underground. Despite (or maybe thanks to) that staunchly underground approach, they’ve built up a truly solid reputation and a dedicated fanbase. For this, their fourth LP, they’ve changed up their line-up, with only Grant Netzorg (vocals) staying on board, with new recruits Ben Pitts (lap steel guitar and bass) and JP Damron (on drums). Here they’ve put such a good showing, that we can only hope they’ll hold together for the next release as well.
The ride begins with “The Fool’s Journey” which, at ten minutes (and a second!) provides nearly a quarter of the album’s run-time all by itself. After a bit of a soft, dreamy intro, it kicks hard into (relatively) fast-moving doom action, with hard-plugging riffs, shouted but low-pitched vocals, and great harmonizing of the guitar and bass sections. There’s also some nice mix work done with the drums, including a bridge fade-in which has them roll around from front to back of a speaker set-up. The song’s repeated alternating between soft and loud brings out the aggressive flexing of the guitar leads quite well, letting them flirt with death metal while still staying firmly rooted in the doom.
The death metal inclination grows considerably more overt in the follow-up, “Scales of Maat”, with a bit of harsh grind leaking into the riff structuring. Some clever rhythmic clashing between those and the drummer’s counter-point makes for some damn hooky instrumental refrains, and the slide down to six minutes and change sets the pace for the remainder of the songs, excepting the minute-long(ish) interludes. “The Chasm at the Mouth of the All”, the next ‘full’ track, is almost the flip of “Scales of Maat”, in that the softer side dominates the song, though that just makes the eruptions into bellows and bass all the more striking. The exploration of that dynamic contrast flows right on into “Lightchild”, with some outright guitar shredding augmenting the intense rising riffs which frame most of the song’s passages. It’s maybe the least doom-set of the album’s tracks, but the measures move with very satisfying weight, while the tone shifts bring the emotion behind the rage to the fore.
“Archonic Manipulations” and the follow-up spacer of “Nightfall” (another mirror, this time to earlier interlude “Daybreak”) pave the way to the closer, “Prima Materia”, and the concluding trio keeps the high standard of quality up without faltering. It’s the final tune which holds the most surprises, though, bringing in a Celtic sort of vibe with the lap steel guitar’s tone and jangling rhythms, even accounting for the mournful low singing which eventually emerges to accompany them. Sadly, the finish is oddly low-key and abrupt, putting a bit of a swerve on an otherwise excellent experience. But aside from those ten or so last seconds, the album does not disappoint, so pick it up if you’ve been in the mood for some powerful death/doom fusion.