Serpent Ascending is a medium for Jarno Nurmi (known from Nerlich, Desecresy and Slugathor) to express his occult and satanic beliefs. This CD compiles the death metal project's sole officially released demo from 2009, his previously unreleased demo from 2011, and one brand new song "The Entwinement" that was recorded especially for this compilation. An LP-version is supposed to follow.
The basis of Serpent Ascending hasn't gone through radical changes since the debut demo, it's just matured. The songs of "The Mournful Pilgrimage" are a bit slower than I expected, changing between mid-tempo to way slower spheres, as well as to occasional blasting. The steady drumming with heavy double bass use is clearly in a supportive role, and the pounding bass with a very tasty sound is a bit too buried amidst the guitars to unleash all it's got. Thus, the harsh, heavy and organic guitar is in the lead, along with the deep growls. The guitar riffs draw their strength from the heritage of Bolt Thrower, but have such an amount of weight on the occult atmospheric side that they sound original. The songs aren't of the "instant hit"-type or too moshable; they're dark and brooding, and if someone said they have a subtle middle-eastern vibe I wouldn't blame them.
The new songs show how much the artist has gone forward on his path. The atmospheres are stronger, the songs' different elements more tightly tied together, and they have more originality than the band's earlier demo presented. The instrumental fourth song has an exceptionally strong dark atmosphere, which bodes well for SA's future. The same goes for the newest piece "The Entwinement," which is a slightly harsher song. It has some really tasty slow leads and a lot of appeal, but brings out the vocals in a less flattering way. The growled vocals suit the music, but need more confidence and vigor.
I have already reviewed the '09-demo here, so there is no need to go through it again. The songs have a newly adjusted soundscape, though, which makes them sound quite a lot better than they did earlier. Even though the album consists of material from three different sessions, there isn't any major changes from one part to another. One can listen to the album in one continuous session without worrying about sudden interruptions.
I don't want to spoil too much from those who are buying the album, but I'll say this: the both colourful and dark visual side is stunning, and I'd gladly see its paintings as larger ones - which will hopefully be possible when the LP-version is released. The paintings have a lot of detail to gaze upon, and give a new depth to the album's atmosphere and lyrical side. The lyrics deal with becoming one with Satan through his trials and finding ways to channel his power, seeing beyond the material world into a spiritual one, and finding one's own will through self-exploration and devotion - growth and transformation. The texts are honest and seem to be personal to their writer, yet they have a lot to give to those willing to study them.
Serpent Ascending is a highly promising band, and it's undeniable that a lot of effort has gone to the making of this compilation. It demonstrates the band's strongest points, shows SA's core form and character, and displays its demo-roots to those who haven't heard of the band before. Still, the soundscapes have their problems, and the songs are of uneven quality. If the band will retaliate with a stronger soundscape (mostly regarding the drums and bass) and an equal amount of dedication as they've presented this far, there's no telling what they can achieve. Serpent Ascending is going forward, without a doubt.