Axevyper - Into the Serpent's Den - (8.5/10)
Published on February 21, 2016
My first listening experience with Italy’s Axevyper was back in 2009 with the disbanding of epic heavy metallers Assedium. I’d loved both their albums back then (now it’s just the debut) and was interested in hearing what guitarist Guido Tiberi and vocalist Luca Cicero were capable of and at first I was disappointed. The 2010 self titled debut while listenable came off as a faster, more rushed and amateur version of the most energetic parts of Assedium and the follow-up two years later didn’t do much to endear me then. After having given them another listen earlier this year I’ve found them to have aged much better and with their third album, they’ve tightened their sound considerably. They still unashamedly worship the speed metal of the past but the energy of their first two has been tempered by a battle-hardened veterans well versed in both its appeal and underlying mechanics.
Axevyper’s sound exists in a realm similar to bands like Satan, Raven, Agent Steel, ADX, Voltax, Metal Grave, Portrait, and Rocka Rollas in that it exists between the earlier predominantly British metal of the 80’s and both the thrash and power metal that would be borne of it. Like the better revival metal bands however they’re able to balance out the titular high velocity delivery of this genre with the refinement brought by those revisiting the style decades down the line. While aggressive and crunchy in is rhythms (something assisted hugely by the loud, clear production job) they never go for the denser jackhammer approach of thrash with fast single string picked rhythms and Iron Maiden style gallops both present alongside exuberant flourishes of lead riffing and colourful melodies. It’s a familiar set of weaponry but that have been masterfully crafted and wielded with a good ear for how to balance consistency and compelling rhythms against epic harmony and lightning-bright lead flourishes.
The eight tracks are all quite memorable and there’s no real filler tracks or moments. We open up “Brothers of the Black Sword”, a midpaced track reminiscent of “Where Eagles Dare” but backed up by a meatier riffs with steady double kick drumming matching the marching cadence. Out of that fly quick bursts of melody like riflemen exchanging fire, underscored by quick bass flurries commenting on the action like intercepted radio communications. After two speed metal numbers we hit the seven minute epic “The Adventurer” with Luca’s passionate lines rising in tension and dramatic energy as Guido’s riffing gradually progresses from a crunchy tugging rhythm to cleaner open strumming and carefully laid out harmonizing backing up the former’s impressive pipes. Right afterwards comes the stampeding flurry of jagged riffs, tumbling rolls, and swooping basslines that starts off the album’s heaviest, “Under the Pyramid” which doesn’t go for a few seconds without throwing explosive, percussive playing at the listener like a barrage of javelins. They even manage to fit in an eerie clean section reminiscent of classic Manilla Road but it’s but a short respite before an equally savage solo rises out like a tower of flame.
Two more excellent speed metal incursions later and we hit the star of the show, “Beyond the Gates of the Silver Key” at an imposing eight minutes. Opening up with melancholic bass themes, it gradually summons a mounting level of intensity from the rest of the instrumentation before a triumphant and almost folksy lead bumps in to clear the stage. What happens next is a bit of an oddity; a quick stuttering riff, quasi proggy some might say, like a maddened scientist twitching and hopping about to the driving steadiness of Luca’s wails. These give way to extended instrumental portions where more controlled and fluidly phrased soloing takes the spotlight to contrast prior crunchiness and reshape song direction. Eventually it leads towards a power metal flashy outbreak of fretboard madness, vocals returning alongside climactic riffing to bring the song to a massive, hall-shaking conclusion and ending the song on what’s perhaps the strongest song of Axevyper’s career.
If you aren’t already into this style then Into the Serpent’s Den probably isn’t likely to convert you. However if you’re invested into the so called New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal or like your metal as melodic as it is rifftacular then this band’s latest is the perfect platter for your tastes. While it might not be on the same level as some of the others mentioned in the second paragraph it is a strong sign that shows this band is ready to move out of the shadow of their influences and into a realm of their own. They don’t just have the fundamentals down; they’ve mastered and fully weaponized them and I look forward to seeing what new carnage they can bring for the follow up. Hats off to these guys; it seems I was *very* wrong when I first dismissed them.