It’s tempting to call Serpentine Path a supergroup, but the band members would like you to refrain from doing so immediately. The New York City metal outfit rose from doom trio Unearthly Trance’s ashes when vocalist Ryan Lipynsky, bassist Jay Newman, and drummer Darren Verni brought former Electric Wizard and Ramesses guitarist Tim Bagshaw onboard for a new project. The quartet’s ensorcelling and terrifying self-titled debut was released by Relapse in September; soon after they added Winter’s Stephen Flam as the second guitarist. Even though this seems like an optimal time to utter the S word, when Serpentine Path play on Saturday night at Saint Vitus Bar — the band’s first show ever — DO NOT CALL THEM A SUPERGROUP.
“You’d better be fucking super if you’re gonna call yourself a supergroup,” says Newman. “Those are pretty lofty expectations for a band that hasn’t played its first show yet. People can spin it however they want, but we’re all just likeminded musicians into the same style of music. Maybe we all have a bit of experience playing in the genre because of our previous bands, but we’re all just friends that happen to live in New York. At the core, we’re all really fascinated with pushing the boundaries of what heavy music can be; we all drink from the same water.”
While Unearthly Trance’s 2010 masterpiece V experimented with tempo variation and expressive pluralism, Serpentine Path is a far more single-minded beast. The songs are all heavily concentrated and nightmarishly slow, which effectively magnifies even the slightest melodic contortion and provides Lipynsky’s despairing growl the opportunity to distinguish itself from the grim sludge. Though difficult to decipher, the lyrics read like an Aesop Rock bar: so surreal they flirt with the edge of gibberish (but, of course, infinitely more dismal). Lipynsky’s grunts are primal and infected, as if the torment is so overwhelming it’s destroyed the possibility of a complete sentence.
“Crotalus Horridus Horridus” begins with a rattlesnake bite, and ends with a hallucinatory plunge into the afterlife. “Awoken to the slithering, shadow coils hidden,” observes Lipynsky. Disoriented by the venom, he accepts his fate, “Surrounded with no retreat, forced to confront what lies ahead.” On “Bats Amongst Heathens,” which closes with the sound of vampire bats feeding on hot flesh, death’s pathway is once again revealed within the swampy, knuckle-dragging gunk: “Hunt conquer mammal spirit, cross the threshold of dusk, embrace the black saturation.”
“It’s a horrific atmosphere–dark and negative and super-depressing,” says Newman. “This sound, and these nasty feelings, come naturally to us. We put it in our music, and we don’t wear it in our shoulder. It calls out to us, so we wanted to see how heavy and grotesque of a record we could make. Unlike Unearthly Trance, which dealt with the occult, many of these songs are about the end-of-days and humanity’s extinction and humanity’s destruction of the world. We don’t sit behind our computers all day and wait for the world to end, but there’s nothing positive about this music.”
“I don’t think it has anything to do with that spectrum of positive and negative,” adds Flam. “It’s like an escape from reality, similar to watching a horror movie. When we play this music, it conjures certain images in my head, like being a fucking gladiator and just fucking slaying people. I don’t think those images are necessarily negative.”
Serpentine Path, Tombs, 16, and Pyrrhon play Saint Vitus Bar Saturday night (8 p.m., $12).
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 26, 2012