There is a slew of different stories about the creation of humankind, and throughout the ages, cultures have come up with their own tales, giving us rich stories that are woven through time. This doesn’t take into account scientific explanations, nor should they because they were born before those advancements, and it leaves room for folk takes and lore we would dismiss as myth today.
So, delving deeply into Nordic creation stories comes Jarno Nurmi, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist for Serpent Ascending, who travels back and soaks up those legends on “Hyperborean Folklore,” the project’s second record and first in eight years. Nurmi takes a great deal of his lyrical inspiration and content from the frame of many works of fiction, coloring in the fiery, yet colorful death metal that snakes around your brain and provides added stimulation. This is a record that is heavy and brutal, but it’s also imaginative and spellbinding, making it something that requires your full absorption.
“Growth of the Soil” blasts open, the 10:27-long lid lifter representing the longest track on the album inspired by the work of the same name by Knut Hamsun. Voices warble as a prog push makes this rubbery and gruff, the propulsive rhythms doing their damage. The tempo pushes back and forth, feasting on speeds, the vocals getting gnarlier as detached speak-singing makes you question your sanity. Things crash down as the guitars rally, and one final gust makes you run for cover. The title track is based on sections of the Kalevala and runs a healthy 9:32 as the guitars charge from the gates, goth-style singing sending chills. The song moves into exploratory terrain, the savagery existing alongside strange vocals and monstrous heat, steamrolling before slithering through terror. The playing stampedes, taking on a Maiden-style adrenaline rush, strange speaking slithering, and the tempo surging before disappearing into the sea.
“Stállus Hideout” is an 8:49-long smasher that brings teasing guitars and an atmosphere that takes its time to establish a world. About four minutes in, the singing creaks, and glorious leads open the center and release beams of light. Guitars flush as the tempos char, the playing lights up dangerously, and the final elements burn into the ground. Closer “Skaði’s Longing for the Mountains – Njorðr’s Desire of the Sea” is dreamt from excerpts of old Norse text Gylfaginning by Snorri Sturluson and is the shortest song at 8:28, yet still an epic as doom spreads across the land. Monstrous vocals lacerate flesh, and strange melodies sink into your bloodstream, leaning into disarming melodies. Guitars get breezy, floating in atmosphere, and the bass feels oddly poppy, which is a lot of fun. The playing soars amid the stars, the pace speeds up dangerously, and the last moments drive through space into its home planet far away.
Nurmi creates a bizarre yet intoxicating world on “Hyperborean Folklore,” a record that defies conventional death metal and gives it a different personality not of this world. The retelling of classic folk tales and the delving into the myth of creation add even meatier elements when peeling back the music, and together, every ingredient makes for an insanely satisfying adventure. This is an exciting new path that makes Serpent Ascending a beast that deserves your undivided attention.
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