Legendary Power/Thrash Titans Reminisce on Anniversary of Recording Debut
Serpentine Dominion is the long-awaited first offering from the long-teased collaboration between, Killswitch Engage guitarist, Adam “D.” Dutkiewicz; Cannibal Corpse vocalist, George “Corpsegrinder” Fischer; and ex-Black Dahlia Murder, All That Remains and Battlecross drummer Shannon Lucas. Understandably, expectations for this project were set rather high, and I’m happy to report that Serpentine Dominion have come out swinging with full force on their self-titled debut.
This album is everything fans of its three contributing artists’ bands could have wished for. To say that this might be all of their best work in quite some time isn’t really that big a deal for Dutkiewicz, given Killswitch Engage’s latest lacklustre offering(s). However, for the ever-consistent Fischer and Lucas, who performed on the three best of The Black Dahlia Murder’s records, that’s quite a triumph indeed. It’s easy to take Fischer for granted, when he and Cannibal Corpse are busy pumping out fantastic death metal albums every two years or so. Yet he really is at the top of his game here, and he delivers his vocals with such force and energy that it honestly puts much of his work with his main act to shame. Likewise, Lucas delivers what might be his career-best performance here, and certainly his most distinctive and personality-filled since the one he laid down on All That Remains’ The Fall Of Ideals a decade ago (that’d be 2006, for the mathematically uninclined).
However, the undeniable star of the show here is Dutkiewicz. Mr. D is responsible for every single guitar and bass note here (as far as I am lead to believe), bass included, and every single riff, lead and solo is absolutely outstanding. This is the most vitalized Ditkiewicz’s playing has sounded since The End Of Heartache, way back in 2004, and it’s absolutely phenomenal across the board, whether he’s busy adding melodic overtones or getting straight-up down and dirty between the endless waves of unrelentingly brutal death metal riffs this record contains. The occasional back-up vocals he adds here deftly delivered, whether via hardcore shouts on “The Vengeance In Me” or soaring harmonies on “This Endless War”, and the production job is the best he’s laid down in years.1
The problem with such an outstanding performance coming from Adam D. is that it unavoidably inspires the question: why aren’t Killswitch Engage putting out records this good anymore? Also, will they ever put out something this good in the future, or is Serpentine Dominion doomed to be a one-off curiosity. Of course, there are other/different members and factors in play here but, for all its brutality, there really isn’t anything here that would sound that out of place on a Killswitch record. It’s not like that band haven’t already brushed up against such realms of brutality, with tracks like “When Darkness Falls”, “A Bid Farewell” and even “The Hell In Me” and, as much as Fisher’s performance is entirely idocentric and equally unfaultable, one also can’t help but imagine such a versatile vocalist as Jesse Leech2 blowing these tracks wide open. Given that Leech wrote the record’s politically charged lyrics, is it too much to ask for this to be reimagined as a Killswitch Engage record? If so, it would be one to rival their best.
Fantasizing aside, what we have – here and now – is an utterly fantastic release. Even though it’s barely twenty-five minutes long, Serpentine Dominion serves as a monstrous statement of intent, as well as offering further evidence against the increasingly irrelevant mantra that “supergroups usually aren’t that good”. Anyone who doubted Dutkiewicz and his collaborators will surely be converted after hearing this.
1 I assume that’s his production job. I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be.
2 …or Howard Jones. Just sayin’.
While Korn are, undeniably, one of the most innovative and influential bands to ever hit the metal scene, they’ve also had one of the most uneven careers in the genre’s history, and even their “classic” material sounds incredibly dated at this point.1 The band were left somewhat floundering in the wake of founding guitarist Brian “Head” Welch’s sudden departure, back in 2005, due to a religious rebirth – as much as I might argue that the resultant record, See You On the Other Side (also 2005), turned out to be their crowning achievement. Since then the Bakersfield boys have tried their hand at everything, from abominable MTV Unplugged records to abysmal dubstep ones, without anything really seeming to stick. Having made some headway with 2013’s The Paradigm Shift, which saw the return of Welch to the fold, the band are back with The Serenity of Suffering – their twelfth full-length effort overall – which might just be the record to put them back on the map of musical credibility.
The Serenity of Suffering is Korn’s second attempt at a “back to their roots” record, following the dismal Korn III: Remember Who You Are (2010), and it’s a far more successful venture this time around. Welch reportedly played a far more active songwriting role on this album than he did the previous one, and it certainly shows. The Serenity of Suffering is characterized by a deep, low-end rumble, which instantly connects if far more readily to the Issues / Untouchables / Take A Look In The Mirror-era than it does any of the band’s output over the last decade. Simply put, Serenity… sounds nasty, and genuinely aggressive. Equal credit for that elevated impact must go to Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu’s pounding, percussive bass work, which might just be the best lot he’s laid down in his career, as well as the stellar production job of Nick Raskulinecz (Alice In Chains, Stone Sour, Deftones), which really gives the record an extra punch that their recent efforts have been noticeably lacking. Drummer, Ray Luzier’s performance is also noticeably more vibrant, and its his energetic contribution, most of all, which keeps the record pushing forward, without ever allowing for a dull moment to set in.
This is easily the heaviest Korn record since Take A Look In The Mirror (2003) or even Untouchables (2002). However, what ultimately lets the record down – preventing it from being a true return to form – are the choruses. The tracks on The Serenity Of Suffering follow a strict recipe of heavy-metal-verse/soft-pop-chorus and, while Jonathan Davis might also be delivering a career-best performance in terms of pure vocal technicality, the chorus frequently distract rather than elevate their surroundings. I liked the arena-rock direction of The Paradigm Shift and Davis has never sounded better, but it’s the more aggressive end of his delivery here that proves the most fruitful. The unexpected scat section in “Rotting In Vain” remains the record’s strongest moment and it’s only on the overall softer outings, like “Next In line” and “Baby”, that the melodic choruses ever really find proper purchase. Also, the lyrics are about as good (and sound exactly like) the horrendous album cover, so there’s that… I also don’t think Corey Taylor’s part on “A Different World” is very good.
Although it has it’s share of flaws, which are all too frequent to be written off as merely minor, The Serenity Of Suffering still offers a healthy reminder of Korn’s glory days, and it never veers into out-rightly off-putting territory, as the band are so often want to do. Between this record and The Paradigm Shift, it seems Korn are slowly circling around the true fulfillment of the direction they should be taking in the modern era. It is an upward spiral however, and The Serenity of Suffering is easily the heaviest and most consistent Korn release in nearly a decade and one which long-time fans will likely herald as the band’s best work since the days of Untouchables.
1 More on that here.
The snake welcomes its brothers.
Still continuing to lead the underground, Bay Area thrash legends Testament have steadily risen in stature over the years to feature a discography that rivals many of their peers and puts them pound-for-pound as a top-tier level contender for the genre’s elite units. Following up their last album with a hiatus of only four years this time that sees founding bassist Greg Christian depart for a returning Steve DiGiorgio as well as Gene Hoglan moving from a session member to full-time drummer, their eleventh full-length album was released October 28, 2016 on Nuclear Blast Records.
As has become the norm since their late-90s resurgence, the majority of the album features the band’s now-trademark riffing style in full force. Tracks like the title track, “The Pale King” and “Centuries of Suffering” employ their patented twin-guitar riffing style that carries this along with utterly ravenous precision, the record dives through a variety of strong, multi-tempo’d tracks that brings about a wholly vibrant thrashing energy while being able to drop back into a less-energetic but still hard-hitting rhythm for the main sections of the tracks. Mixed alongside these are “Stronghold” and “Seven Seals” which are more simplistic, straightforward mid-tempo crunchers that are all quite adept at delving into their guitar-based muscle while easing off the throttle and providing a strong, perfectly crafted balance that makes the band so engaging and enjoyable. Their ability to adapt to these varying stylistic attacks, along with a heaping dose of melodic accessibility to match their strong riffing and tight, professionally-played performances, has been what’s made them so strong over the years and is a vital part of this one.
Though these are all quite appealing for the most part, there’s still a small part of this one lacking that most important aspect of their signature sound which is the more memorable and vicious riffing. This really seems to opt for more straightforward rhythms and simplistic paces here which never really develops that one over-enthusiastic blast of raging thrash that has followed the band throughout their career, and too much of this one is stuck in the mid-tempo for the majority of their tracks and it really becomes noticeable on the second half where it’s not as engaging being filled with admittedly weak and filler tracks which is hardly a facet found in their career until now. It’s undoubtedly fun, but doesn’t extract that one factor which has been featured on their more prominent effort.
As the band is still one of the more prominent and respected bands in the genre, this release still manages to solidly fit in their discography even with a few rather clunky, disposable tracks as the overall sense of fun established here makes this one far better than most attempts at the style and is still a solid choice for all fans of their previous work and thrashers in general.
A TMO Interview with Steven Peyton of Garroted
Awesome August assemblies, from the likes of Inquisition, Running Wild, Meshiaak and beyond…
The vocalist of one of Australia’s oldest and most respected heavy metal acts talks about Dreadnaught’s extensive career, their new album Caught The Vultures Sleeping, the state of the Australian heavy music scene and the virtues of Thin Lizzy.
Tons of Rock Festival in Halden, Norway – June 24th 2016
Four of the juiciest June jams going ’round.
Tons of Rock Festival in Halden, Norway – June 24th 2016
Tons of Rock Festival in Halden, Norway – June 23rd 2016
May the month’s most outstanding metal releases be with you.