Review: Per Wiberg ‘The Serpent’s Here’

Multi-instrumentalist Per Wiberg has been sprinkling his magical fairy dust over tracks from a plethora of great bands for longer than I care to convert into words. Not only as a member of legendary death/progsters Opeth (from 2005-2011) who contributed to what I consider that bands high watermark release, Ghost Reveries, has been present on all my favourite Spiritual Beggars material, added extra flourishes to a surprising number of Arch Enemy albums, Carcass’ excellent Torn Arteries, collaborated with Clutch/The Bakerton Group, Candlemass and countless others including Big Scenic Nowhere.

Per Wiberg 'The Serpent's Here' Artwork
Per Wiberg ‘The Serpent’s Here’ Artwork

It’s fair to say that even if you clicked on this not knowing who the man is, you’ve probably heard him playing on an album that is all the better for it. In addition to helping other people sound good, Wiberg made his debut bow, Head Without Eyes, in 2019 and it is through his solo work that you can truly begin to get a sense of the man who has played a part in so many great recordings.

Head Without Eyes was a strong, self-assured release that the PR gumph described as ‘A record of Nordic prog submerged in a gnawing stew of jolting guitar notes and emotive melodies’. Beyond the superlatives, the album revealed Wiberg as an accomplished and challenging artist whose compositions were often complex, innovative and colourful. His expanding vision which furthered on the 2021 follow up EP All Is Well In The Land Of The Living But For The Rest Of Us… Lights Out where harder edged, darker vibes sort to reflect back the state of the world.

Returning with a second full-length release, he once again recruited drummer Tor Sjödén (Viagra Boys) who also played drums on the All Is Well In The Land Of… EP, along with Kungens Män’s Mikael Tuominen. Working from sketches of ideas, the three created a spontaneous, improvised live jam which was captured at Studio Gröndahl by David Castillo before Wiberg later added keyboards, guitars and vocals over the basic live tracks.

This process gives The Serpent’s Here a thick sound that’s undoubtedly boosted by the doubling up of bass on the album along with the extra guitars that herald the rich tonal variants conjured in the tapestry of compositions which have their roots in rock and roll, but also a prog laced grandeur and film score aura.

Opening number, Dead Sky Lullaby starts with a throbbing orchestral feel. The swell of the music stretches and grows with synths and, at times, reminded me of Anima Morte’s 2022 album Serpents In The Fields of Sleep which I was fortunate enough to review. As the track grows, so does the urgency and Wiberg’s slightly alien vocal delivery becomes a lilting, multi-layered sing-along as they tease out and deliver the chorus.

The moodier and heavier title track, The Serpent’s Here, once again has creeping progression, with layers of quirky, incidental sound and shifting dynamics. The vocal range expands to match this, and the delivery is thicker over the grungier feel that reminds me of Tripod era Alice In Chains or Cantrell’s Degradation Trip.

a fantastic album that merely serves to reinforce Wiberg’s immense talents…

As Sjödén hammers and faints glancing blows on the kit, the funky bass and the poppy ‘Do Doo’s remind me of a giddy Again by the aforementioned Seattle crew, and despite the tumultuous, tumbling breakdowns attempting to derail the feeling, nothing can remove the shine when the climax returns.

Blackguards Stand Silent by contrast is slow, almost spoken word, rapped beat poetry, where the instrumentalisation calls back to the first track giving the album a sense of continuing evolution. Muted by the standards already set, the heavy keys and questioning lyrics are back dropped by light electronics and beats.

Continuing the downbeat theme This House Is Someone Else’s Now features taught, military style drums under subtle piano and slow burning guitar licks. The almost jazz-like flow and restrained delivery gives the number an otherworldly feel as the warm embrace of the vocals float in and out. Building to a synth and key crescendo, the final ‘walk on, through endless light’ leaves you feeling sombre and emotionally drained.

He Just Disappeared and Follow The Unknown contrast wildly as the former builds from nothing into organ sounds with whispered vocals which once again lead towards a piano led climax, whilst the latter is an epic slow burning number that reflects the loose rock and roll vibe Wiberg wanted to capture at the heart of this record. This muscular, heavy track is layered with a variety of additional instruments and is a dramatic, triumphant journey featuring a complex breakdown and delicious lead guitar.

Signing off the album with a cover of underappreciated hard rockers Warrior Soul’s The Losers from their 1990 Last Decade Dead Century album caught me by surprise as it is one of my absolute favourites by Kory Clarke and company. Here the defiant, celebratory middle finger to society is a stripped down, slow and heavily electronic take which makes the listener feel uncomfortable and disconcerted. This one was hard to take for me given my love for the original, not to mention it leaves the album hanging in what feels like a morose mood to finish, but I’ll confess that it is a unique take, and my view is entirely wrapped up in my subjective feelings.

The album also comes with a complete instrumental version for those who want to try their hand at ‘Peroake’… or just to hear the vast range of complexity that goes on in The Serpent’s Here, which is a lot. Also, it makes for a great background soundtrack when working too and I have whiled away the past few weeks listening to this while documenting software upgrades.

Overall though, this is a fantastic album that merely serves to reinforce Wiberg’s immense talents.

Label: Despotz Records
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Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden