Any seasoned doom metaller can speak to the enlightening power of the riff. Such pursuits have driven Denver’s In The Company Of Serpents along its nine-year career. Vocalist/guitarist Grant Netzorg and drummer J.P. Damron (Vermin Womb, Bleakheart) were already a force to be reckoned with, now further strengthened by the addition of Ben Pitts on bass and guitar. Titled Lux (Latin for “light”), the band’s first album as a trio explores light as the prima materia—in other words, the core building block of existence. This seismic sludge metal excursion remains engaging and fruitful.
With artwork derived from The Sun card from the tarot deck, Lux abounds with solar imagery. The droning, ambient beginning of “The Fool's Journey” certainly evokes a placid sunrise. It almost sounds like an Om song, until Damron’s four-on-the-floor beat stomps over the horizon. In The Company Of Serpents has no problem with contrasting straight-ahead riffs with drifting meditations, and bridging the gap with hazy stoner-doom hypnosis. The song is easy to head-bang to (especially that last-minute turn to thrash) but there’s still room to ruminate on its theme of action and consequence in a dangerous world.
Netzorg’s gruff voice tips a hat to Neurosis’ Scott Kelly, with a dash of Kirk Windstein's guttural melodies. It's an apt accompaniment for the music’s direct, yet nuanced impact. His performance on “Scales of Maat,” with help from Primitive Man’s Ethan Lee McCarthy and Khemmis’ Ben Hutcherson, formidably invokes Egyptian mythology. Named after the goddess of judgment, the song’s parting question alludes to her scale of sin and virtue: “Will we have been a worthy vessel for the light of the void?” For all of its heady themes of afterlife and judgment, the song maintains a lumbering strength—not to mention the fact it absolutely nails the “bring the nasty riff back, but slower” effect.
Oceanic and lethargic, yet muscular and groovy, these riffs welcome repetition. The soaring tremolo lines and depth-charge chugs of “Lightchild” balance emotional and barbaric elements, carrying Netzorg’s heartfelt words for his baby daughter. The way he connects his familial love to the “all is love” principle of prima materia is incredibly thoughtful. Similarly, the Mastodon-esque structure of “Archonic Manipulations” carries a conscious disdain for spiritual dormancy. Spurred by angular riffs and a tectonic tempo shift, In The Company Of Serpents' fleshy, battle-hardened music mirrors Netzorg’s call for physical action toward spiritual awakening.
The neo-folk interludes “Daybreak” and “Nightfall," are far from filler, presenting two sides of the same coin. The former takes root in blues legend by using the “Skip James Tuning.” This unique guitar tuning contains what some call “the God frequency”—literally the vibration of creation. In tragic contrast, the latter was performed at the memorial for Netzorg’s father-in-law. The two tracks share beautiful acoustic guitar and Paul Primus' delicate viola performances, reflecting the close relation of life and death. Netzorg expands upon this concept on a real curveball track, “The Chasm at the Mouth of the All.”
Feeding Them Crooked Vultures through a doom metal filter, the song evokes the inevitability of death and the potency of life: “The sky above is the celestial womb; The soil beneath us the seed and our tomb.” The blues-inspired jam emphasizes In The Company Of Serpents’ musical chemistry, showing they can write compelling music without relying on detuned distortion.
Lux's foothold in good old fashioned riff-mongering gives a dose of humanity to its abstract ideas. To that effect, closing track “Prima Materia” may as well be the title track of the album. The band showcases its sense of size with a five-minute acoustic crescendo, and its might through a final blast of fuzzed-out Sabbath worship. Out from the culminating riff springs Netzorg’s final reiteration of the album's essential truth, “Light pervades all – Prima Materia."
In The Company Of Serpents embodies luminous transcendence with its steadfast heaviness and engrossing atmosphere. Without getting too progressive or too ambient, these songs run the gamut of sludge metal both as a musical style and a spiritual guide. Taking a deeper look into the endurance-testing trial-by-riffs illuminates some deep truths about the nature of being.