Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Tale of Two Albums

It was the hottest of times, it was the metalest of times, it was the age of blistering desert sun, it was the age of crushingly heavy doom, it was the epoch of broken air conditioning in a traffic jam, it was the epoch of sludge. I could go on, but unlike Dickens I refuse to write a sentence with 17 commas.

In case the title didn't make this clear, this is a joint review of two albums. It's also (sort of) a story.

So yesterday I set out with the hopes of acquiring two new albums from the local record store. Emanations  by Serpentine Path, which had come out that day, and Symmetry in Black  by Crowbar, which had come out the previous day. I rode with my brother to Zia (the record store) to look for them, though we were working within a pretty tight time-frame because he had some other obligations that couldn't be delayed. I found the new Crowbar easily enough, but Serpentine Path was nowhere to be found, despite the help of an employee who looked it up in their system and said that they had it. My brother dropped me off at home and hurried off, while I jammed to the tasty southern groove of yet another strong Crowbar album. Incidentally, and don't hate me for this Crowbar fans, but Kirk Windstein's vocals remind me a lot of Chad Gray. I mean, he doesn't have the whining goth vibe, but his voice is pretty similar. Anyway, the album was excellent, and I listened through it twice immediately. "Symmetry in White" was my favorite track, with a simple but undeniably catchy main riff that I just loved. Still, I was hungry for more.

While back at Zia, I'd been informed that the store's other location across town had a couple copies of Emanations, so I went over there and did indeed find it. By now it was mid-afternoon, the temperature was up around 104 (according to my phone's weather app), and rush hour traffic had started to really swell. 104 isn't the worst we'll get here in Las Vegas by any means (last year's peak was 117) but when you're driving a black car with dark interior and a broken air conditioner, it's much too hot for comfort. I soon found myself trapped in total gridlock, baking in the desert sun as I stared balefully at the rear bumper in front of me, and it was into this reality that Serpentine Path slithered.

There's something about sweltering heat that makes sluggish, doomy metal all the more effective. The massive riffs coiling around you and crushing your sweat-drenched body feel so right, and the slow groove becomes almost supernaturally captivating. If black metal is for the cold, then doom is for the heat.

My car stalled once I'd reached the freeway, a recurring heat-related problem, and I coasted to a stop under an overpass. There I sat, car dead on the side of the road, with nothing to keep me company but the crushing groove. After a while I milked it along to a little bar by an off-ramp, and my brother and his girlfriend came to save me. As much of a pain is the ass as the whole thing was, though, it was actually the perfect way to experience that record for the first time.

Rarely do I buy two albums on the same day and immediately consume and enjoy both of them. Yesterday's purchases, though, were terrific. Crowbar have been at the pinnacle of sludge for essentially the sub-genre's entire existence, and that continues to this day. This newest album was just Crowbar doing what they do best, bringing groovy southern flair to crunchy doom riffs, and I enjoyed every minute of it.  Serpentine Path, on the other had, are only a few years old. They've been criticized for unadventurously occupying well-explored death-doom territory, but I like them in the same way that I like Bloodbath: it's okay to follow the beaten path if you do it really well. I personally liked their debut, but I think this time around they sound even better. They stretched out a little and recorded some tracks I don't think they would have considered on the relatively simplistic debut. "Claws" in particular stood out, reminding me a bit of Swallow the Sun's phenomenal The Morning Never Came.

Neither of these is groundbreaking, but they both sound awesome. I have a feeling, in the heat of the summer, that I'll find myself coming back to both of these records repeatedly. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go play "Symmetry in White" again. 'Tis a far, far better riff that I hear now. . . .


  1. I'll be buying "Emanations" and the new Black Anvil tomorrow. Looking forward to checking them out.

    I didn't realize people actually criticized Serpentine Path. Based on who's in that band, you'd think that they'd get near-universal acclaim, no matter what they did.

  2. "If black metal is for the cold, then doom is for the heat." Love it.