By: Matt Butler
Holy Serpent | facebook | bandcamp |
Released on September 30, 2016 via RidingEasy Records
True story: I actually bought a lava lamp after repeated listenings of this album.
I’ll be honest, it didn’t grab me at first – it is a lot darker than the Australian quartet’s debut, released little more than a year before this one.
And the grinning psychedelia of the self-titled debut has been replaced by brooding riffs stretching out for an eternity as drums shift their beats infinitesimally – or spark up into a classic 1970s shuffle at some points. And the vocals are fair drenched in effects for an oily, paisley experience, making singer- guitarist Scott Penberthy sound at times like Tom Petty after a heavy, heavy week.
There are clues from the cover; where Holy Serpent had a fantasy stoner multi-coloured image of snakes, hands and (of course) mushrooms, Temples has a stark stone window frame in which a mysterious figure is tossing a skull in the air.
So as you can imagine, if you’re not in the right frame of mind, this album would be quite an ordeal.
So set aside a good couple of hours (all right, a little under an hour) and you’ll be able to appreciate its depth, density and downright heaviosity. Hence the lava lamp. Put it this way: this album needed my listening space to be Seventiesified in order to properly appreciate it. I even dug out my long skateboard from the back of the garage for use on a nearby hill afterwards.
It begins with fade-in to introduce the sludgy opening riff to ‘Purification by Fire’, which shifts shape into an enormous beast as it continues on its eight-minute journey. ‘Towards the Sands’ stands out not only for the discipline in which Holy Serpent adhere to the frankly bludgeoning riff, before a “tss tss tss tss” count-in from a hi-hat signals an abrupt shift into pure early 70s rock territory. You know what? It works a treat.
In fact there are little treats dotted throughout this album. Like a glacial version of the pause and half-beat accent that was a mainstay of every punk band of the early to mid-1990s (you know the one, where the guitarist would leap with his legs bent and feet together before performing a dramatic downstroke as he landed).
One appears in ‘Towards the Sands’ and another pops up in the mammoth final track ‘Sativan Harvest’. There may be others, although I confess that with the aid of the lava lamp (orange, if you’re into detail) and a comfortable beanbag I kind of lost my train of thought.
Incidentally, ‘Sativan Harvest’ owes a debt to Sleep’s ‘Dopesmoker’ for its concept and subject matter. It’s a suite more than a song, with at least three parts and is worth keeping still for throughout its 11-minute duration. And there are total changes in time signature which you don’t realise have happened until they’ve gone in ‘Bury Me Standing’, which rolls, carves and lumbers along in a malevolent fashion. ‘The Black Stone’ in the other hand, is largely made up of a grinding tempo and drawn-out vocals, although there is still space for it to twist into another form for a period.
A word should be given to the production. In addition to the effects-drenched vocals, the drums pack a solar-plexus punch and the bass has a satisfying thick yet hollow sound that befits the material. And the guitars are fuzzier than a new-born panda.
So yeah, be warned. You may not warm to this immediately, but when you do, you may find yourself shopping for stuff that hasn’t been in fashion since the first time flares were the thing. You may even feel the need for a lava lamp. Or at least a long skateboard.