Sarpa – Solivagus

Joining the rarified ranks of black metal bands from Texas, the one-man project of Sarpa is the brain-child of David Baxter. With time spent in Skrew and Škan (on drums), along with current work as the drummer of fellow Texan black metal group Plutonian Shore, Baxter‘s background certainly suggests rhythm as a dominant strength in Sarpa‘s arrangements. While that does end up being a major element, Baxter seems to clearly recognize the numerous challenges of a debut effort, and meets those challenges with admirable creative force.

After the brief intro of “Cleanse”, with some rippling guitar and rolling drums, Sarpa jumps into the deep end with the album’s longest track, “Triad of Might”, which runs just under eleven minutes. From its first moments, the drums take over pretty firmly, though Baxter‘s guitar-work shows enough liveliness and maneuverability to keep it running fairly evenly with the percussion. Change-ups in the tempo, mood, and dynamics of the song are plentiful, but the shifts are measured out in ways that keep it from feeling gratuitous or scrambled. Positioned as it is, it works well as Baxter‘s statement of purpose and character, showing off technical skills while roaring in with an occasional gnash of grittier violence. His vocals are integrated well, with their usual growling mode meshing neatly into the mix, and providing a comparatively steady off-set to the polished production.

As the album continues, the emphasis on fancy drum-work is (understandably) one of the more consistent qualities but, as though anticipating possible preconceptions of how a drummer expanding to a full ‘band’ might operate, Baxter reliably provides enough unusual touches in the other instruments to keep things rounded. Third track “Predacious Dimensions” (immediately following up the lengthy “Triad of Might” with another nine-minute runner) makes great use of rapid shifting between two main guitar timbres, a more muted one swapping off with a rawer, higher tone. The tangles of time signatures and beat switches do get a little self-absorbed, but by placing it this early in the album’s sequence, the impression is more one of exploration than indulgence.

The middle-to-end section of the album bring things down to a more grounded mode, with a trio of songs each running slightly less than six minutes. “Evanesce”, “Anguishing Reveries”, and the title track, in that order, move from a death-metal-tinged moroseness on through raging assaults and defiant jaggedness. When “Horizons Worlds Beyond” arrives to close out the LP, it’s with a grand sense of culmination, and the ferocity to match. With as much anticipation as the preceding songs build, it’s a thrill to hear it met with such

As a debut, it’s a thoroughly impressive piece of work, and remains so even without that filter on for listening to it. Baxter plays to his strengths while making sure to explore and experiment, and fits all of those processes together under the yoke of creating damn good metal songs in their own right. It’s the sort of material of which a ‘full’ band could rightfully be jealous, and the occasional slips into moodier meditations keeps the frequent high-tempo rushes from being too exhausting. His blurring of styles is another high point, with shifts from black metal to death metal often handled so deftly that you can end up several measures into the new style before realizing the alteration.

A few more instruments for his palette would have been welcome (like the synth underlays slid into the final track), but Baxter impresses again by never sounding limited by handling everything in the mix by himself. Memorable hooks are threaded throughout the entire album, and the (relatively) rapid transit from midpoint to finish makes repeated listens an easy undertaking. Thoroughly compelling and stimulating work, and one Hell of a first entry in the Sarpa discography.

Sarpa – Solivagus
A wonderfully well-made one-man project debut, with much to enjoy, analyze, and sustain head-banging
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Strong song-writing
Versatile arrangements
A firm sense of purpose and musical character
Fiery energy
Though time might blunt this impression, it does seem somewhat constrained by its status as a first release, though that only raises expectations for how subsequent albums from Sagra might stand on their own.
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