Although it might be risky to admit it on The Sleeping Shaman, I’m something of a dilettante when it comes to doom. I mean, I like a crushing riff played at a snail’s pace as much as the next person, but after a few tracks of funereal plodding I tend to find myself getting a bit bored. For me, doom works best when the heaviness is coupled with something else to keep things interesting. Fortunately, that’s where Holy Serpent, denizens of Melbourne, Australia step in.
I can profess total ignorance of the band before picking this up to review, but according to the interweb Holy Serpent have been around since 2014 and Endless is their third full-length album. According to the intriguingly vague press release, Endless is intended as something of a concept album: “Endless is fully conceptualized throughout, encapsulating an oceanic theme from the lyrics and art, even to the very structure of the sounds themselves.” Mysterious, eh?
I was intrigued to hear what Holy Serpent sounded like and opening track Lord Deceptor doesn’t disappoint. With dreamy, shoegaze vocals floating over a series of winding doom riffs it’s an absolute cracker, managing to be both melodic, groovy, and crushingly heavy at the same time. To me at least, vocalist Scott Penberthy sounds seriously like Julien Pras of Mars Red Sky and the juxtaposition of his ethereal vocals against the bulldozing guitars creates a tension that keeps things interesting across the whole record.
With dreamy, shoegaze vocals floating over a series of winding doom riffs it’s an absolute cracker, managing to be both melodic, groovy, and crushingly heavy at the same time…
Second track Into The Fire raises the tempo slightly, although it’s hardly setting any speed records, and confirms that Holy Serpent really know how to fuse solid song-writing with some properly hefty riffing. The next few tracks follow a similar pattern with Hourglass in particular having a vocal hook that stuck in my head for days afterwards. As you might expect, album closer Marijuana Trench (bonus points both for the amusing song title and tying back to the oceanic theme) is suitably epic, with quiet acoustic passages bookending some emotive doom-flavoured melancholia.
One thing that struck me listening to this album is that Holy Serpent really have a feel for when to let the music expand and wander, and when to stop. Each track clocks in at six to seven minutes, giving enough time to see where the guitars take you without feeling self-indulgent or repetitive. The album itself has a wonderfully concise duration of forty minutes, but by the end you still feel as though you’ve been on a proper musical journey. It really is excellent. My only gripe is that when doing some quick research for this review, I found out that Holy Serpent played in the UK a few months ago and I missed them. Hopefully they’ll be back again soon.
To return briefly to the alleged oceanic concept, I am genuinely confused by the album cover which has the markedly un-maritime image of a naked couple standing in the desert and looking towards… A volcano? That’s what it looks like to me at any rate. Having a well-deserved reputation for being unobservant I referred the matter to my wife, who reckons the lady on the right has hair exactly like Daryl Hannah in Splash (if you’ve not seen it, she plays a mermaid). Could that be the oceanic link? Answers on a postcard.
Scribed by: Liam Blanc