Doom metal has had its share of supergroups, from the sludge-veterans Voltron of Shrinebuilder, to metal’s original supergroup, Black Sabbath. But it’s best to call New York-based Serpentine Path more of a metal-band enhancement. Earlier this year, after more than a decade in the service of ghastly low end and ferocious thunder, Unearthly Trance quietly came to an end. And yet the band’s three members — Ryan Lipynsky, Jay Newman and Darren Verni — didn’t actually have any plans to stop playing music together. Instead, the trio regrouped with former Electric Wizard bassist Tim Bagshaw on guitar, and arose reborn as Serpentine Path, a fittingly massive second acts from four doom die-hards.
There are certain characteristics to be expected with any doom album, no matter how funereal or abrasive, and Serpentine Path’s Relapse debut hits most of the necessary checkpoints — sluggish tempos, guitars tuned to subterranean, distortion that could make the ground below collapse. Yet, the most refreshing aspect of Serpentine Path’s virulent rumble is how simple it is. Despite Lipynsky’s death metal growl, Serpentine Path tends to fall more between the classic doom chug of Saint Vitus and Southern sludge. The band largely avoids ethereal or atmospheric introductions or interludes, or baroque instrumental flourishes. This style of doom just hits you head on.
This simplicity has a certain elegance about it, though not so much that it gets in the way of the band’s ability to wield noxious, droning fuzz as if it were a blunt object. After a brief introduction about Satanic numerology in “Arrows,” the band gets right to the meat of what they do best: chunky riffs and bass that could loosen ribcages. But within the boundaries that the band sets, there are various moments in which the instrumentation grows more dynamic, from the mighty riffs that kick off “Obsoletion,” to the ominous synth drone and ghostly voices that haunt “Compendium of Suffering.”
Most strongly bolstering Serpentine Path’s bona fides is the utter sense of despair that emanates from every reverberating chord. Indeed, this isn’t music for social gatherings or for a night with that special someone. It is, however, a powerful statement of doom metal misanthropy delivered with the fatal acumen of four veterans of the genre. If you’re going to ruin your evening, this is one of the better ways to go.