Serpent Venom have been touting their formidable version of seventies rock mixed with St.Vitus style doom for a while now and they are just getting better and better at it. The last time they played with Devil and Age of Aquarius…sorry Age of Taurus, they tore the place apart leaving the other bands wondering why they needed to play at all. That was on a bad night by their standards, so what we have here with Carnal Altar is the band on the best night you will ever see them. It’s like a sealed capsule that has just been broken open by a puff smoking hippy hoping to find his next big hit. Well here it is fella! If this doesn’t go down in doom sonic history as one of those quintessential weed stoked British releases, then the world really has gone to shit.
I for one think we need to count ourselves lucky to be living on the same isle as these masters of a bygone era. Okay, so our everyday existence has indeed shifted across the decades, with it being pretty hard to find an afghan coat smelling of a freshly skinned goat, or petrulli scented flares, or a gaggle of longhaired louts with a penchant for saying “man” and “groovy” between every other word. But hey there are other ways to hold onto the past, and to my ears at least this is one helluva throw back to oily British bikes, the smell of Castrol R roaring out of coked exhausts, and the sound of loud rock music pouring onto the otherwise distracted occupants of the north circular. Yes, Serpent Venom’s sound screams vintage, but in such a way that you can’t help but feel a compulsion to jump on the back of this denim soaked monster for a ride.
I am glad there are still bands like this around, those that hold true to the way things were, when playing solos like a crazed epileptic misfit had not yet become the popular past time for many British rock inhabitants. Preferring things a little bit more sedate, or considered, with a good measure of sorrowful repose allows us to savour the music these maestros have presented here for the masses. Unclouded by trying to over complicate every song accentuates the slow groove turn these guys have been able to capture. There remains a modicum of speed, but the overall pace provides us with the opportunity to ponder each phrase and harmony in every song. It’s well worth doing this as well, because there is so much to gain from listening closely to this release, as you may have already guessed from my somewhat excessive use of euphemisms.
Commencing the doom odyssey Carnal Altar, the title track arks and crashes in from the waves formed by the opening mellotron. Vocals soar through the sky like a sabre cutting through the winds of chaos, drums drive, pound, and form the groove for the amazing bass and guitar work on exhibition. This is a perfectly formed example of what a classic doom band should be sounding like. Candlemass, Black Widow, and of course Sabbath makes this track tick all the boxes. And here’s the thing all the tracks manage to do that, it’s rare for you to find an album that is actually faultless, but I think this may well be one of those rare gems. The typical Sabbath-esque vibrato that Foxy produces or the hammer-on Iommi signature don’t come across as merely aping the past master, but actually breathing new life into a classic style.
Blood of Serpents, Four Walls of Solitude, Conjuration and Under the Compass follow the same hook and groove, but in such an interesting way that the riffs and solos act as a sigillic portal to wooded glades, figures in black, the dusk casting its half-light across incantations made. Caught in a time warp, the songs feel longer than they actually are, but this is not because they drag or are cumbersome, rather you find yourself suspended between here and then, strung out between time and place, the liminal space betwixt sacred and profane.
There are of course highlights, perfection on perfection and Devilshire and The Outsider command this post side by side. Stomping broken stop start riffs in a similar vein to Kink classics turned to doom, Iommi-ised, and then filtered through the venom of a serpent, cascade from the speakers in a perfect formation as the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Death rides forth with a smile from having found his anthem, Pestilence spreads the unavoidable doom germ to the masses, War gathers the fallen souls and places them in front of a hi-fi commanding them to bow at the pulpit of Serpent’s formidable power, while Famine causes everyone to stop and fast on the mesmerising horned mammoth this band have been able to invoke.
I have been left speechless by this release having listened to this album again and again it still keeps giving me more. Bloody fantastic and awe inspiring you only have to listen to the last solos on The Outsider and you will see what I mean. Of course my preference would be for you to get there by listening to the rest of the album. Fucking Tumultuous!!!! If this album was scored and I could go up to ten I would give this an eleven. Let this beast sink its fangs into you….I did, for that I will never be the same and neither will you.
Scribed by: Pete Hamilton-Giles