When Relapse put out the debut self-titled album from what could arguably be termed death-doom's first 'supergroup' Serpentine Path, it marked something of a departure for a label best known in their early days as the go-to label for blistering grindcore and death metal, and later the home of Mastodon, whose boundary-pushing releases on the label marked a sea-change in metal as a whole.
Years of ever more progressive and 'out there' releases followed, but soon the prevailing trend turned back to both the label's roots, and those of metal itself; the primal, the evil, and the unsettling. Relapse have been at the forefront of dragging these sounds from the underground, releasing incredible records like Coffins' The Fleshland and Hooded Menace's Effigies Of Evil. They continue to spearhead the ongoing death-doom revival with the release of Serpentine Path's sophomore slab of terror Emanations.
This marks the first recording made since the band (originally comprised of ex-Ramesses axeman Tim Bagshaw, and former Unearthly Trance trio Ryan Lipynsky on vocals, Jay Newman on bass, and Darren Verni on drums) added second guitarist Stephen Flam to the line-up, who, incase you were somehow unaware, was the guitarist in New York pioneers Winter. So that's kind of a big deal. Ever since announcing that he was joining the band, genre enthusiasts like myself have been dying to hear what he would bring to the table, and unholy shit Emanations doesn't disappoint.
If you can tear your eyes from the nightmarish figures that adorn the cover, then you'll find the music to be just as unsettling. Opening track 'Essence Of Heresy' pulls no punches, immediately lurching to life with a far Frostier guitar tone than on the debut, with Lipynsky's growls sounding as grim as ever. The subtle layering of distant howling guitars that Bagshaw perfected in Ramesses is present here once again, this time complimented by Flam's more abstract wah-drenched soloing. That both guitarists are so distinguishable in style, yet so perfectly in sync, proves that this band are much more than the sum of their rotten parts, their pedigree more than just a legacy.
'House Of Worship' contains some gigantic clattering cymbals courtesy of Verni, as well as the meanest backbeat ever heard, while the band lock into a seriously monstrous groove atop it. Another distinctive squalling solo from Flam serves to ramp up the atmosphere, before they lock back into a slightly more uptempo stomp. 'Treacherous Waters' drags things back down to doom tempo; more funeral dirge than war march. There's more of that decrepit guitar lurking beneath the growl of the main riff again, as well as a subtle hint of synth.
'Claws', with it's siren-like wailing intro, is particularly putrid. The main riff builds and drops, lumbering along with all the dreadful terror of a horror movie monster. The oppressive atmosphere of fear continues, with a twist in the tale around the 5-minute mark, the tempo ramping up momentarily before the track slows... and slows... and slows...
Next up 'Disfigured Colossus' comes as close as this band will get to accessible, seeing as it possesses actual semi-discernible vocals. The myriad of winding riffs, and occasional forays into darkly psychedelic territory means it meanders a little towards the end, but it's still a total beast of a track.
According to the liner notes all the music on the album was written by Tim Bagshaw with the exception of 'Systematic Extinction', the sole track credited to Stephen Flam. The change in writing style is subtle, but still readily apparent. Flam hasn't lost his touch for penning tracks that give both guitar and drums plenty of interesting moments as individual entities. Whilst it's not quite as rhythmically driving as the likes of Winter's 'Servants Of The Warsmen', his spacious riffs give Verni's tumbling drums plenty of space to breathe, the instruments seeming to circle one another warily. When it all comes together, the effect is skull-achingly headbang-worthy.
While Flam joining the band may not signal a marked progression from the template laid out on Serpentine Path's debut album, it has enabled them to venture even further down the dark and writhing path they set out on that first record.