Sterling Serpent’s debut EP has ties to shadowy darkness, bleak music that haunts hearts, souls

It should be well established that we have a pretty loose definition for the word heavy around here. It doesn’t have to be music that destroys your mind and body with volume and speed; it just has to be something that weighs massively on you and makes you feel something that impacts your heart and guts no matter how the music sounds.

While metal comprises 99 percent of what we do around here, we have a soft spot for dark waves of Americana, dusty music, folk, murder ballads, that type of thing. Sterling Serpent’s lineup includes members from other bands that do delve in metal, but here, they create music more along the lines of, say, Handsome Family, as their work drips blackness from every seam, and it feels the product of deep psychological wounds that have no chance of healing. Their debut self-titled EP is a four-track appetizer that hopefully is the first steps toward a full-length effort that I’d devour whole. Comprised of members of Bell Witch, King Dude, Serpentent, and Terminal Fuzz Terror, the quartet of David Alexander Nelson, Joey Roaringblood D’Auria, Anne K. O’Neill, and Dylan Desmond bring a shadowy ambiance and cold dreams that gnaw at you for days.

“Violet” starts things off with a dusky western feel and the deep singing from Nelson pushing the plot. O’Neill harmonizes with him, and at times, this song reminds me of Murder By Death. “Hold up your head, ignore the others,” Nelson calls while the compelling chorus swells with the line, “Hold me tight, don’t you die,” as the song spirals out. “Eternity” echoes as steely guitars drip, and dual vocals give this song a haunting aura. “My name is eternal,” is wailed as the song kicks into higher gear, and the guitars awaken. Primal barks jostle spirits as the volume swirls, O’Neill’s voice chews into your muscle, and she speaks over the final moments. “Bones” is dusty with desert-style guitars, rich baritone vocals, and a spirited chorus that gets your bones going. The track gets heavier and more aggressive later, ending this short, but explosive song perfectly. Ballad “Evelyn” ends the album with acoustic rushes and echoes as Nelson sings and weaves his narrative, crooning, “My love is chronistic, but that was long ago.” Synth gazes over the song, the chorus rears its head again, and the track ends in gentle arms.

Sterling Serpent’s debut EP is a stirring, jarring adventure, the type of music I’d imagine listening to driving lonely highways in the middle of the night, with only my ghosts as companions. It’s not heavy in the classic sense when it comes to metal, but it sure weights down on you during the entire journey. This is music that enhances your loneliness, makes it sting inside, and oddly makes you feel a little more battle tested when your indulgence ends.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Cerebral Rot’s gut-churning death metal boils on ‘Odious Descent Into Decay’

Photo by Desi Hermann

At the risk of sounding way ahead of myself, it’s almost the time of year for the most disgusting and evil forces to converge upon us again and let us revel in blood and guts. OK, so it’s still, like, two months away. But this is the pre-gaming season, for lack of a better term, and preparing for the madness ahead is the only responsible way to ensure we’re all prepared for the madness.

Seattle’s Cerebral Rot are more than willing to get you there, and their vile death metal congeals and coats the surface on their savage debut LP “Odious Descent Into Decay.” Nine tracks spread out over 45 minutes are plenty enough to make your stomach turn and to fill you with psychotic visions that no normal person possibly could convey. These are scenes that are animalistic and deranged, as their style of death almost has a stench to it, one you can’t hope to ignore over its running time. That sounds unpleasant, and perhaps to a sensitive ear it would be, but this record is actually bursting at the seams with doom-infested death metal that we don’t hear often enough these days. The minds responsible for this insanity—guitarist/vocalist Ian Schwab, guitarist Clyle Lindstrom, bassist Zach Nehl, and drummer Drew O’Bryant—really go for broke on this thing, and all the talk of disgust aside, this is a damn powerful album that will leave a gaping hole in your chest and your psyche.

“Odious Descent Into Decay” has an eerie start when acoustics wash over, and the track slowly emerges from its dirt tunnel. The track pounds away, as guttural growls chew at your guts, the pace is thrashing and slashing, and the violence smears grossness over the course of its seven-minute run. A haze of ’90s-style soloing tears into your flesh, as the track bashes out in echoes. “Swamped in Festering Excrementia” has guitars crushing right away, disgusting growls, and playing that feels monstrous and alien, as its teeth sink into you. The drums really hammer away here, while the guitars launch into the atmosphere, and things fade into synthy madness. “Reeking Septic Mass” has a cool pace before the violence bustles in, the growls choke, and the tempo stomps away. The pace goes right for the throat with the leads pushing into the killing fields, and things get swallowed by a chilling fog. “Cerebral Rot” is their title song, and it starts violently with a trucking assault and menacing growls. Guitars are unleashed and splatter as clubbing blows are dealt, soloing burns through massively, and a raucous pace restarts and comes to a blistering halt.

“Putrefaction Eternal Decay” has a crushing open that feels like the walls are caving in, and the growls feel like they’re weighing down on you. There’s a slow-driving haze that shows up later and pushes your mind, but the tempo picks up, guitars swirl, and things come to a damaging finish. “Sardonic Repentance” is the longest track, clocking in at 7:07, and it arrives in a doomy mist that hulks along in a calculated manner while the drums begin to clobber. The growls sound like they’re boiling in blood as the wave of doomy death gets heavier and thicker, and the track situates itself in a driving muck that threatens to suffocate. The track keeps getting heavier and meaner, ending in a pile of rubble. “Repulsive Infestation of Cadaver” has a mangling start with the growls bubbling and the band openly assaulting everything in front of it. Violent shrieks and a devastating assault team up and drive the track into a raging fire. “Primordial Soup of Radioactive Sewage” sounds gross as shit, and sure enough, it sounds like it’s swimming through what its title describes. Vile punishment and maddening growls unite, while the leads go off and blind with their light, and the track ends in hell. Closer “Foul Stench of Ruination” unveils its slaughter immediately before slipping into doomy waters, momentarily slurring, and then upping the ante again. Soloing scorches while the drums smash through bones, and a thrashing assault and deep growls flow into an unexpected acoustic ending that acts as a sort of bookend for how this monstrosity began.

If you’re sitting there wondering if your weakened guts can handle “Odious Descent Into Decay,” perhaps you’ve already answered your question, and the horrors will be too much. If you’re feeling up to this, Cerebral Rot might be your new go-to band anytime you want to visit abomination and depravity in ways that won’t land you in prison. This is a sickening, lurching serving of death metal that won’t taste good in the classic sense but will leave you full and strangely nauseous.

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Uniform, the Body reconnect to question if time heals pain with damaged ‘Everything That Dies…’

On Lingua Ignota’s new record “Caligula,” there’s a line on the song “IF THE POISON WON’T TAKE YOU, MY DOGS WILL,” where Kristin Hayter reaches out to Aileen Wuornos and sings a painfully stinging line, “Life is cruel, and time heals nothing.” It’s something worth considering, whether the passage of days and months and years does in fact heal us or if the wound is there forever, bleeding.

It’s a central point to “Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back,” the new collaborative effort between Uniform and The Body that wonders whether loss ever heals and if pain goes away. That concept also is borrowed from James Elroy’s 1996 work My Dark Places that posits that tragic loss never can be overcome, and the pain and suffering is there forever in some form. You’ll be forgiven if you don’t feel uplifted by that idea, but you should know that these two bands rarely, if ever, bring the sunshine, and it’s an idea worth examining, as uncomfortable as it may make us feel. The title of the album is lifted from Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” album, specifically from the song “Atlantic City.” This effort follows the bands’ 2018 record “Mental Wounds Not Healing,” itself a famous lyric that can feel awful out of context, and here the two forces—Uniform is comprised of vocalist Michael Berdan and guitarist Ben Greenberg, while the Body is guitarist/vocalist Chip King and drummer Lee Buford—meld their fiery beings into one again with devastating results.

“Gallows in Heaven” lets noise settle in before things stir mechanically, beats are applied, and Berdan’s fiery shouts later are joined by King’s world-slicing shrieks. As the two voices combine, guitars unload, and the final moments are marred with damage. “Not Good Enough” bathes in static and electronics before wild howls from Berdan shake the foundation as he wails, “There’s nothing left to say when I’m dying on the vine again.” King’s shrieks deface everything, while the keys deliver mesmerizing numbness that floats to the end. “Vacancy” has synth warping and beats striking as King’s voice drills into cement, and an industrial fire engulfs the world. Underneath all of this is a catchy melody that snakes while the track keeps delivering blows. “Patron Saint of Regret” has speedy shouts delivered by Barden lacing overtop smoldering guitar work and a pace that keeps building. Angelic vocals float behind, making it feel like your soul is stuck between heaven and hell, as everything ends in a strange haze.

“Penance” sits in a synth bed as King goes off, Barden shouts from his guts, and the sound sickens. Strong riffs barrel through as mystical synth lines fall in sheets, fading into clouds. “All This Bleeding” has beats poking, cool guitars bringing chill, and static lapping over like waves, as the shrieks come tumbling down. Doomy solemnity and dark melodies merge, fading into a deep sleep. “Day of Atonement” has a slowed-down sample looped through the entire piece, giving it a ghostly feel, while beats sizzle, screams shatter windows, and slow-driving chaos pushes you to your limits. “Waiting for the End of the World” is a strange, haunting track that has a dreamy slush ambiance, as members of Assembly of Light Choir (I assume, at least, but I haven’t seen them attributed to the album) recite the Violet Flame Decree as if they’ve been reprogrammed who are now robots devoid of humanity. It’s chilling and works to a stunning degree. Closer “Contempt” has noise boiling, samples pulsating, and Berdan’s shouts getting under your fingernails. King’s fury in his shrieks is unnerving as the track sits in smothering hell, and all noises well up and create a sonic force that ends its assault with a wave of alien zapping.

The union of Uniform and the Body pays off with damaging goods yet again on “Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back,” one of the most sobering, shocking records of the year. It’s here to make you confront that pit in your stomach, the one that never seems to go away and at times grows so big, it’s hard to move on. I can’t say that’s going to put a smile on your face, as it shouldn’t, but the music at least provides an ample destructive foundation on which to smear your frustration.

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Pijn, Conjurer team up to push back darkness, find positivity on lively ‘Curse These Metal Hands’

The world can be a miserable, dangerous, horrific place. Just this past weekend in the United States, we saw two more massacres in an endless line of them, and once again people are trying to find answers and a way through even more pain. It can be a lot to navigate sometimes, and just having a distraction or something to bring good feelings into the mix is needed desperately.

While they might not be able to solve all the negativity people feel all over the world, two UK bands Pijn and Conjurer are at least attempting to scrape from joy’s barrel and spread it to whoever wants to hear them. The band combined for a four-track joint effort “Curse These Metal Hands” that purposely pushes away from the darkness and more toward things that can be fulfilling and not utterly soul sucking. They also point out the merits of getting stoned and hearing dogs snore which, if you don’t at least like the latter, you might need a huge dose of what these bands are bringing to the table. Combining Dan Nightingale and Brady Deeprose from Conjurer, both on guitars and vocals, and Joe Clayton (guitars/vocals), Nick Watmough (drums/vocals), and Luke Rees (bass/vocals) from Pijn, the two forces put together some heavy, emotional, utterly rewarding songs that really do a wonder if you’re feeling dark shit lately. It’s not going to cure you, but it might get your blood flowing better for a while.

“High Spirits” opens the record with calm and breezes, letting the atmosphere take over before the hammers begin to strike. The track explodes into a burst of emotive playing, as raspy singing drives the way, and then powerful screams join the fold to add some grit and danger. Later on, things are punishing but colorful as guitars soar through the air, two leads bring a wave of metallic nostalgia, and the track comes to a glorious finish. “The Pall” has cool riffs and slinky playing before the track turns gazey. Just then, things take a sludgy turn as cement-thick trudging arrives, and mouths are bloodied. A brief respite from the madness leads to howls returning, the drama building, and everything ending neck deep in a giant pool of mud.

“Endeavor” is the shortest track at 2:21 and the only one that doesn’t clock at least eight minutes. It makes the most of its time burying you in melodic sludge as growls put you in a hammerlock, bodies are shattered, and the track comes to a volcanic end. “Sunday” closes the album, and it’s the longest song, clocking in at 10:17. The track has a huge feel as a deluge of sound overflows before temporarily going calm. Out of that comes massive roars, punchy playing, and a wall of ferocity that’s impossible to avoid. The track’s blood then runs ice cold, as guitars chime and echo, and the flow bleeds further toward serenity. Then the track re-engages with its power as heartfelt playing fills the room, the pounding makes your chest heave, and the track slowly winds down with twin guitars cutting through and the end acting as the cathartic crescendo you didn’t even know you needed.

Metal and heavy music tend to revel in negativity and pain as a whole, because that’s what it happens to do really well. But Pijn and Conjurer prove on “Curse These Metal Hands” that it can be healthy and productive to take a break from that and try to see the positives. It’s sometimes nearly impossible to do that, so it’ll take some work, but the end result is a rush of sound and two bands that are trying their best to help you through, if only for a little bit.

For more on Conjurer, go here:

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New Jersey’s Anticosm unload catchy black metal thunder on smashing ‘The Call of the Void’

Black metal is a strange lawless land that weirdly is governed by a ton of dumb rules that should have gone out the window years ago. There’s no one right way to play it, and it’s been refreshing hearing bands try different things and stretch the borders to their comfort levels. I certainly have preferences for how black metal sounds, but handcuffing artists to that standard would be destructive and selfish.

Jersey’s Anticosm definitely do not adhere to any strict guidelines when making music, and if anything, these guys sound as loose and at home as anyone else playing this stuff. They’re back with their third record “The Call of the Void,” and their rock n roll-infused black metal remains fluid and crushing over nine tracks that some might even find, gulp, accessible. That’s another no-no for black metal, that people might hear it and like it, but this album is full of stuff I can imagine finding a bigger audience sort of the way Tribulation did, and there are some mild sonic comparisons there. This band actually has been doing its thing for more than 15 years now, with two other full-lengths (2009’s “Against the Cosmos”  debut and 2015’s self-titled record) to their credit. The band—vocalist Kirill Kovalevsky, guitarist Mark Siedlecki II, bassist Tom Wilson, and drummer Beheader (Keith Romanski joined on guitar after the record was recorded)—have endured lineup changes and label switches, but from the sounds of this album, they’re refocused and ready to break bones again.

Opener “Viral” fades in from the cosmos before things catch fire, and the track begins to shed blood. “You exorcise demons in the name of false gods,” Kovalevsky howls over the chorus, with the guitars going off and creating a firestorm. A weird prog fog then settles before the leads spiral, and everything comes to a mashing conclusion. “Someone Must Suffer” has some tasty riffs out front, neat classical guitar spots, and then a wave of proggy thrash. “In the name of peace, let there be war,” Kovalevsky wails as the track blasts into the night. “Scorched Earth” has creative riffs, fiery vocals, and a speedy, molten tempo that spills over. The band hammers away with reckless abandon before finally bringing a modicum of mercy. The title track has a clean start, with acoustics setting the mood and synthy strings drizzling before the track explodes. The playing is melodic and catchy, swimming through guttural chaos and ending in a glorious haze of fireworks.

“Fall Asleep” emerges from a fog before fluid thrashing picks up, and a storming pace spreads fire throughout the land. Emotional soloing and punishing vocals lead the way before everything comes to a smearing end. Oddly, the final four songs are some of what I’d think would appeal to a broader crowd, which makes it feel strange that they’re back loaded. “Somewhere Between Life and Death” has guitars rushing, a strong rock n roll vibe, and shrieky vocals that suit the song well. Soloing kicks up and makes waves, bringing this short, but effective, song to an end. “Behold the Venom Crystals” has guitars poking, the playing spreading its wings, and a strong chorus that could go over well live. “The Only Truth” is solemn and eerie as it starts, with the vocals sounding raspier and the guitar work opening wounds. It’s another track that should be a blast to hear live, as it’s packed with a lot of energy. The album ends with “Never Enough,” perhaps the most energetic of the bunch and a real barnstormer at the conclusion of the record. “I don’t want to live forever, no!” Kovalevsky calls amid stunning soloing, sticky riffing, and a finish that grinds teeth to dust.

Anticosm sound primed and ready to bring more followers into their fold with “The Call of the Void,” a record that’s heavy as hell and has a lot of sticky moments that pop up and destroy you. It’s been a long road to get here and five years since their last album, but it sounds like all that time was very well spent from a creative standpoint. This album’s a bruiser, and it’s also an insane amount of fun.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Darsombra go into psychedelic bends, cosmos on calming opus ‘Transmission’

If we’re being 100 percent honest, and we are, this hasn’t been the best year of all time personally, as the anxiety, depression, and impostor syndrome trio has really done a number on the psyche. So, sometimes hearing violent, furious music is exactly what I need, but in other instances, something that’s the opposite of that works better so I can simply breathe.

Baltimore duo Darsombra seemed to arrive at just the right time with their new record “Transmission,” a single-track, 41-minute album that’s as psychedelically warming as it is cosmically adventurous. Through this entire sojourn, guitarist/vocalist/effects creator Brian Daniloski and synth player/gong crasher/visual artist/vocalist Ann Everton pour their imaginations and artistic skills into this expansive display that, quite obviously, you need to absorb front to back. If you do, the reward will be yours as the boundaries in your mind are stretched, and you might find that you’re able to dial back all the chaos of everyday life and simply live within this world. It’s done that for me as it helped level me and balance the noise that always seems to rear its head.

“Transmission” slowly emerges from a fog, as a trancey ambiance is set up and maintained through the entire piece, and guitars drip from the heavens. The first part has a mid-afternoon desert feel as psyche keys emerge and color the horizon, the music stirs, and Daniloski and Everton commit to harmonized chants that stretch over the next section of the song. Guitars snake through as minds are pushed on high, and the playing keeps cutting through before the band starts to slowly crush you. That crunch leads toward space bubbles as the guitars warm up and give off beams of light, and things trickle toward center, giving a bit of an Earth vibe, which is always welcome. It then feels like the music has tunneled through your head and into your brain as the fuzz is amplified, riffs slowly light up again, and the tempo trots through the dust, as your head continued to buzz. Cool riffs release breezes and waft, and then things burn and bustle as the song heads toward the home stretch. Wordless chants are sung, your head is filled with dreams from other planes, and everything spills out into a calming bed of chimes.

Darsombra have become road warriors and created a live setting that is totally theirs and welcomes your own energy. The music on “Transmission” sounds like it’ll be ideal in that place, where Daniloski and Everton stretch out and try to make a connection with those who have assembled to witness their art. This new, entrancing chapter of Darsombra’s journey will take you out of this world, beyond your mind, and into strange corners that might seem terrifying at first but ultimately lead you to a deeper mental discovery.

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Pittsburgh’s Ritual Mass unload savage death metal assault with EP ‘Abhorred in the Eyes of God’

If you’re one of those people who turns up their noses when local artists get opening slots before your favorite bands’ live shows, definitely try to improve that attitude. One of the pleasures I’ve gotten over the years of attending shows here in Pittsburgh is getting a taste of what the bands here have in their arsenal, and I’ve become huge fans of many, so much so that I look forward to them as much as the headliners.

I say that because Pittsburgh’s Ritual Mass got a crack at being one of the first bands to hit the stage during the recent Steel & Bone Vol. 1 fest, and they fucking slayed. Anyone who ever saw them before would not be surprised by this, but it was great to see people there to wreck their bodies and hearing to Immortal Bird, Tomb Mold, and Horrendous were just as enthused by this band’s set that was short but totally satisfying. Now, just a couple weeks later, they’re back with their second release “Abhorred in the Eyes of God,” a four-track, 12-minute effort that’s nicely sized to give you an example of what they do and why they’re one of Pittsburgh’s, and metal’s, more promising death squads.

“Grievous Sin” tears the record open and begins to crush bodies right away as primal growls are unleashed, and the tempo adds ample pressure to listeners’ skulls. Severe pounding and nasty growls roll through, and the playing is meaty, massive, and deadly. “Seated at the Right Hand of the Lord” is a monster that blows flames in faces and smears soot across the world. The playing is crunchy and violently catchy as the growls mash, and then slow-driving hell begins to spread. The final minute of the song it utterly gut wrenching, and then it bleeds into “Servant” and its all-consuming riffs. The track spirals dangerously as the playing breaks down and spits nails, proverbially shoving its hands over mouths in an effort to cut off breath. “Devoured” closes the assault with killer guitars coming to life, the growls scraping off flesh, and an all-out animalistic display flexing its muscle. It feels like the song is trying to peel back scabs and going to chew into bone as mangling growls deliver the final blows, and the track stings and fades.

Ritual Mass have been making their way through the Pittsburgh underground, and “Abhorred in the Eyes of God” is a monstrous display that demonstrates to the rest of the world what we locals already know about them. They’re a sharp, devastating group that proves its meddle live and pour that into these four songs. This is only the dawn of Ritual Mass’ campaign, and they’re likely not finished until they amass a tidal wave of willingly collected broken bodies.

For more on the band or to buy the album, go here: