As sophomore albums go, the latest Serpentine Path record is about as good as it gets. It’s hard enough to create one great LP, but it’s harder still to follow it up with something that doesn’t feel like a disappointment. But then with Tim Bagshaw (his departure from Electric Wizard definitely robbed them of a morbid edge that they have never recaptured), all three members of Unearthly Trance and now Stephen Flam in the mix, you’re upping your chances of putting out more than one outstanding record. ‘Emanations’ has enough substance to burn itself into the listeners brain and merit repeat listens, but is unburdened by pretension. We caught up with vocalist Ryan Lipynsky in order to better understand what makes this great band tick…
A hearty greeting to all of you, and congratulations on producing one of the albums of the year!
You must be pretty delighted to have Stephen Flam involved! How did that come about and has it changed the writing process at all? How do you think it changed the dynamic of the band?
A few years ago Unearthly Trance did a split 7” with Volition which consisted of each band doing Winter covers. When the record was released I thought it would be cool to send a few copies to the guys in Winter. I knew my buddy Ron Grimaldi was friends with the Winter guys and he hooked it up. I think that was the first point where we probably were on Stephen’s radar. Fast forward to when Winter was playing a few shows in the New York area and that is when Jay Newman crossed paths with Stephen as Jay works at SIR [Studio Instrument Rentals] and helped out with some amps and stuff for the shows they played. Jay became friendly with Stephen and eventually heard the first Serpentine Path album. He expressed interest and eventually the idea came up for him to play second guitar. It was an immediate yes from all of us.
Stephen joining didn’t change things dramatically. He really just enhanced what we already had going on. Having two guitars in the rehearsal spot and on the recordings makes things sound that much more gargantuan. He has lots of experience and is very much an expert at his craft which is the same kind of sound that we’re already doing with Serpentine Path before he joined. It was a perfect match and he fit in seamlessly. We still wrote the same way and basically the band become elevated and even more sonically heavy.
Is there a primary songwriter, do the songs originate with one band member, or is it a very democratic process, i.e. does everyone contribute the green shoots of a song? Are the lyrics all Ryan’s doing? Sorry this one’s kind of generic, but I am interested….
Tim Bagshaw is very much the mastermind behind Serpentine Path. To me, you can hear threads of Ramesses and even Electric Wizard in some of the riffs that Tim plays in SP. Tim demo’s songs at his place with a drum machine and then presents his ideas to us. After that, he’ll work it out with Darren and then the band together further works out the different parts and arrangements in the practice space. There is a democratic sense in the band that we all have a say with what works and we all have to agree on a song for it be on a recording. But only one song didn’t make the cut on this album as it just wasn’t ready to be recorded and not that it wasn’t a good song. I have done all the lyrics except for a song or two early on that my friend James contributed to. But every word on “Emanations” came from my brain.
The new record oozes the spirit of Hellhammer, mixed in with the first Vitus record, I think Darren’s drums are total V-beat! Can you reveal to us how you got them sounding so damn good (other than the fact that 90% of the work is in the fingers/mind of course!) – did you use a studio with a big drum room or was it a close mic job?
Yeah I like that comparison. Hellhammer / Celtic Frost is a huge influence on all of us. The V- Beat! Love it! Darren is very much a hard hitting power player and a general monster overall. So it’s a mix of close up microphones and expertly placed room mics. It wasn’t a huge room but there was enough reverberation down in Jay’s catacomb where we recorded the album.
I love the artwork of the new record, tell us about the artist that did it! I love that it comprises elements that we’ve all seen a million times before on metal album covers (snakes, skulls, zombie templars), but does it in a really masterful way.
The artwork was done by Orion Landau of Relapse Records. We have been working with him for a while and he has always done excellent work. He did the first SP album cover as well 2 of the 3 Relapse albums Unearthly Trance did. I think he really understands SP expertly and we give him free rein and both times he immediately hit us back with killer concepts that were fully developed. I think he creates vivid and expressive art that fits with our sound and lyrics. You can also see references to the first album inside the albums layout which I think is really cool way to do things.
What some people may not realise is that there was an almost political edge to Winter, what with their having played benefit shows and belief in animal rights (maybe you can confirm this?). With songs entitled “House of Worship” and “Systematic Extinction”, it seems there is a (minor) undercurrent of conspiracy theory and contempt for the powerful running through your work, or am I just seeing things that aren’t there?
I believe this is correct! If you read the words inside “Into Darkness”:
“WINTER are concerned musicians who care about the state of the planet and the problems that plague modern day society.”
Certainly not your typical burnout metalhead mentality. Clearly a band who thought deeply about things.
I know they played shows with punk bands and were definitely a band that stood on their own and for what they believed in.
As far as animal rights, its actually something I am personally strongly behind as I have been a vegetarian for almost 20 years now.
Serpentine Path lyrics certainly have a thread of contempt for corrupt powers like Organized [Crime] Religions and the expanding control of governmental power structures. “Systemic..” is a song that Stephen wrote the music to a few years back that he brought to the band. He originally had the working title of “Genocide” and I took that and turned that into the “Systemic Extinction” concept. It is a song about a nightmare scenario of global enslavement and the eventual reduction of humans/eaters to benefit the dominating forces that will be hellbent on securing diminishing natural resources. The more people ruin and destroy earth, the more cut-throat countries and eventually world governments will be to secure those type of things. “House of Worship” just talks about the simple idea that all Houses of Worship will eventually crumble and fall due to the lies its built upon. They all will eventually be buried and forgotten.
Tell us more about snakes and your fascination with them!
Well I can’t say I’m obsessed with snakes but more the esoteric and occult symbolism they represent. I think for me this goes back to things like the concept of the cosmic serpent Ouroboros which has always resonated heavily for me. Serpent symbolism is connected to the most ancient rituals in mankind which can be reflected in both good and evil ways. If you look at almost every historical culture from around the planet, you will see that serpent symbolism is evident in one way or another. From Native Americans, the Norse, Mayans, Egyptians etc.. I very much agree with the idea that the Serpent is an innate symbol of danger and death and can also represent rebirth and initiation.
It’s a fascinating subject for certain and provides endless opportunities for gaining knowledge and even self-discovery.
Your influences within the realm of heavy metal are pretty obvious, but can you list off a few other artists (musical or otherwise) that inspire you to create music as “The Serpentine Path”?
Hmm just some random things off the top of my head – Tim digs the 60’s group The Shadows, I know Stephen would say Amebix, Jay likes lots of obscure psych rock, we both are super into Roky Erickson which I can strangely see a subtle link in the dark lyrics, Darren likes Jimmy Durante. haha Just kidding. I’ve been into Rudimentary Peni and lots of female vocalists lately. But honestly I don’t know if any of this has a huge effect on the sound or approach of the band.
Can you please list off your favourite death metal bands of all time, with (if possible) reference to specific records and where you first heard them?
Morbid Angel – Altars Of Madness
The best death metal band of all time. I had a friend in 6th or 7th grade who used to have a wall of death metal tapes and when he played me this, I was scared and of course totally intrigued by the sounds coming out of the speakers.
Obituary – Cause Of Death
I saw these guys live quite a few times live in NYC the 90’s and they were always killer.
Death – Spiritual Healing
One of the first death metal bands I ever heard. My childhood friend Dave got me into them.
Autopsy – Mental Funeral
The ugliest and most doomed classic death metal album. I used to listen to this tape until it fell apart.
Entombed – Left Hand Path
I think I bought this CD on a whim back in the day because I heard the name and I was immediately blown away by the sound.
Are you into any of the bands that have been spearheading the resurgence of interest in death metal of late, or are you mainly into listening to Autopsy & Celtic Frost? Bands like Obliteration, Dead Congregation, Anatomia, Bonesaw… Feel free to recommend stuff our readers should check out from your area and beyond!
Huge fan of Obliteration. I like them and Nekromantheon. Sindre is a killer guitarist and really has the old spirit in him. Unearthly Trance had the opportunity to play with both of those bands a few years back and they were really impressive. I can’t really suggest any DM band from NY. But you are basically right, I mainly only listen to the old masters of metal.
I realize you’re not a touring band as such, but any offers/plans to play Europe any time soon?
Not at the current time. I don’t think you will ever see Serpentine Path doing a huge extended tour. It is just not on the cards for us.
I think that just about wraps it up, thank you for talking to us and for producing another album of brilliant death metal! Use this space to tell our readers of upcoming shows, releases and whatnot…
Our album has just been released! Please pick up a copy at your local record store, steal it from your bearded old brother or listen to shitty rips online. Or just got to relapse.com haha
Thanks for your time and cool questions! Cheers!
Interviewed by: Saúl Do Caixão