Serum Dreg kick off "Death Ritual" by screeching "FUCKING DEATH RITUAL!" over a bunch of guitar squealing. There's a song called "Blasphemic Black Death Noise” and the record is titled Lustful Vengeance. As you might have guessed, Serum Dreg is crusty, blackened, deadly, and deeply, unabashedly goofy. Though the Portland duo is certainly not tongue-in-cheek, there's no doubt that their debut record is ridiculously fun. Lustful Vengeance is a no-frills throwback to black metal's heyday and a record that boasts more than enough merit to stand out in an increasingly crowded genre.
Despite what the decidedly unfriendly song titles might otherwise suggest, Lustful Vengeance’s greatest strength is its impressive accessibility. This is intense, to-the-point music that has little time for lengthy atmospheric breaks or measured, hypnotic riffing. Serum Dreg might not be reinventing black metal, but their crust-heavy take on genre makes for a frantically enjoyable listen nonetheless. Take the aforementioned “Death Ritual,” and not just because of its gloriously absurd opener. The track speeds along at a blitzkrieg pace, full of chunky riffs and drum beats that practically melt together in their ugliness. The vocals overlaying the murky instrumentation are no less pungent, shifting from scratchy black metal screeches to the occasional death growl or over the top garbled laughter on a dime.
Although Serum Dreg’s vocal and instrumental chops are certainly up to snuff, Lustful Vengeance’s superb production warrants particular praise. The expected underproduced elements keep things suitably grim and evil. Lustful Vengeance genuinely sounds like a studio-quality recording of live music, which makes their occasional sillier forays all the more entertaining. Attempts at creating a live music soundscape are hardly uncommon, but few nails it as well as Serum Dreg, and the results are a key factor in Lustful Vengeance’s success.
While most of Lustful Vengeance’s tracks play out similarly—get ready for a lot of screechy intros, guitar-focused midsections and Celtic Frost “Oughs!”—that’s not to say that the record is a damningly repetitive listen. Lustful Vengeance’s brisk pacing and bite-sized runtime mostly excuse the lack of deep nuances, even if that might hurt the record’s long-term replay value. But for the most part, there’s little to else to fault Serum Dreg when they are busy banging away at their instruments and screaming nearly indecipherable impieties.
Unfortunately, there are a few minor issues when Lustful Vengeance slows things down. While the especially animated vocals of "Holy Disease" carry the track’s first half and counteract the somewhat plodding pace, the slowdown is especially noticeable in Lustful Vengeance’s lengthy opener. The nearly 8-minute “Rotten Pillar/Lustful Vengeance” meanders for much of its midsection and while it’s never so lax to be an egregious offense, it speaks volumes when you could essentially scrap about half or even all of the track to no ill effect.
So, just do that. Everywhere else, Lustful Vengeance is an apt celebration of the genre that is far livelier than all the talk of death and rot would imply. Serum Dreg’s debut is an easy sell for purveyors of crusty sacrilege and an admirable way to begin a discography.