This music reviewing gig is an easy lark right? A bit of background about the band, briefly talk through the influences, describe a few tracks, name check some similar bands and draw a conclusion as to whether it struck the right tone with you depending on what side of bed you got out of that morning?
In the case of Serpents In The Field of Sleep this couldn’t be further from the truth. How to convey to the casual reader, or the unfamiliar, a summary of the dizzying complexity on display from ‘Swedish instrumental cinematic/horror music outfit’ Anima Morte is a challenge as multi-faceted as the album itself.
Drawing their inspiration from far and wide, the music of Anima Morte has more in common with a prog laced film score than it does with a conventional musical release. Imagine a voiceless version of Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds where the driving narrative force is solely hinged on the momentum of the music, emotions articulated by the rise and fall of the swelling passages, rather than articulated by the ebb and flow of the human voice.
Back in 2019 I spoke of the spectacular journey of Continuum, the space themed second album by Kent Instrumental maestros Sons of Alpha Centauri and how they conveyed the story arch through the use of this song writing technique and sequencing structure. In the case of the wildly ambitious Stockholm collective, that notion stills falls far short of the end result as they seek to redefine the outlying boundaries of definition.
Made up by the core of Daniel Cannerfelt (guitars), Teddy Möller (drums), Gustaf Hielm (bass) and Fredrik Klingwall (snyth and keys), the band formed in 2004 have been deeply influenced by the likes of Italian prog rockers Goblin, musical director Fabio Frizzi and other composers of the Giallo and Zombie movie genres of the seventies and eighties to create a rich, luscious tapestry that spans three previous albums, three EPs and additional compilation contributions.
Recorded between October 2018 and May 2021, in addition to the band members, Serpents In The Fields of Sleep features a cast of external contributors on a wide ranging array of instrumentals from mellotron, glockenspiel, vibraphone, violin, viola, cello, saxophone, clarinet, trumpet and trombone to create an insanely rich, orchestral scope that seeks to defy convention.
Nearly nine years removed from their last full-length release, 2014’s Upon Darkened Stains, they have sought to create a jazz inflected composition that has as much in common with King Crimson as it does with the golden age of cinematic nightmare.
Beginning with the urgent, swirling synth workout of Leaving Redemption Behind they incorporate gothic themes and sci-fi space rock. Shuffling drums and pulsing electronica introduce a quasi-western grindhouse feel as the music swells.
It is a musical piece of cerebral composition that revels in the depth of its arrangements…
Pathogenesis is moodier and heavier. The drumming and reverb laced guitar fight for real estate with the mood as the strings stab in adding to the drama, feeling like the first track was the opening credits and now we come to the first appearance of the antagonist. Far more composition like in structure, the mournful brass instruments set the tone before the almost industrial conclusion.
Having more in common with a soundtrack means this is an album that flows through you, rather connecting on a direct level. There is no clever lyric to draw you in and articulate a feeling you may relate to, and your focus may soften as you lose yourself in the sheer depth of the music, only to be dragged out by isolated moments like the shoegaze guitar run in Seeds Of Trepidation.
As Serpents… continues with the gentle lull of A Perfect Void, the album becomes breathless and airy as the multitude of instruments dance playfully off each other, growing as the band add layer upon layer of detail to each refrain, drawing you in and enveloping you with the atmosphere.
The fiercely titled Blood Of The Iconoclast is filled with drama and almost Bond like in scope, at times urgent and tense, the track builds before the moody echoing Colours Of Incrimination and feeling like the album is drifting through the acts of the story, with almost surreal jazz flavour, harking back to the classic sound of a seventies B movie with jarring strikes. Despite the retro feel, Anima Morte have harnessed a modern edge to their sound and the production allows the multitude of instruments to shine without smothering each other. Yes, it is indulgent and overblown sounding, but that is the point.
The title track with its calming vibes sets up the final waltz towards the end of the album, building a smoky atmosphere that can feel subdued compared to the bombast of the earlier movements, but it’s filled with emotional weight. From the tender beginnings of The Underworld Beckons to the closing Night Of The Final Act, Anima Morte bow out with a more sombre tone but one that contains subtle swoops and dives in the flow of the music.
This is a challenging record to absorb as a listener, not an album of three-minute floor fillers to throw on in a club, nor is it fair to dismiss Serpents In The field Of Sleep as background music. It is a musical piece of cerebral composition that revels in the depth of its arrangements, designed to conjure up a visual stimulus from those who latch onto it. Some won’t get it, which is a shame, as this is high art in audio form.
Serpents In The Fields Of Sleep is out now on digital release LP in multiple colours/variants packaged in a deluxe tip-on gatefold jacket as well as a limited CD, the physical packages of which are a stunning visual compliment to this phenomenal musical act.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden