The Malign Covenant
Review by Fernando on March 12, 2023.
Ireland, a country that has had many very important and influential bands in metal most would rightfully think of Thin Lizzy, and in extreme metal there’s Primordial, the now defacto Celtic black metal band. And on that note, today we have a project wherein A. A. Nemtheanga from Primordial, lent his vocals and bass skills. Verminous Serpent is the name, and alongside fellow Irishmen Joseph Deegan of the occult abomination Slidhr and Matt Bree from cavernous wretches Malthusian, they deliver The Malign Covenant,their debut album, through Amor Fati Productions.
With such a pedigree of Irish extreme metal bands that are as far apart as they come, how does Verminous Serpent sound? Well, this is unequivocally black metal, very raw, very violent, pitch black and overwhelming, but also hypnotic. The biggest risk this project faced was if the music leaned towards any of its members better known bands, but fortunately they don’t, for the most part. Those familiar with Slidhr will definitely hear some similarities, particularly in how Verminous Serpent falls into dissonant and obscure soundscapes, but the key difference is atmosphere, and the band excel at creating a nightmarishly ritualistic atmosphere that perfectly evokes images like on the cover art, death, desolation and utter despair. Aside from how Deegan and Bree play to their strengths in creating something new, this is somewhat new territory for A. A. Nemtheanga, mainly that instead of switching between shrieks and glorious warcries, he snarls and howls like a pest-ridden wolf, his vocals are searingly wretched in a way that perfectly compliments and rounds the very brutal and ominous music, if one goes in blind, not an iota of Nemtheanga’s usual vocal delivery is present here, and the music of Verminous Serpent is all the better for it.
Furthermore, a very noticeable aspect about the music that makes it a cut above the rest of most black metal is how proficient each member are in their respective instruments. That’s obviously a given for Nemtheanga and Deegan since the former is already a seasoned veteran, and the former’s skill on the guitar speaks for itself in Slidhr and certainly here as well. His riffs and excellent knack to create the most dissonant leads is present throughout, especially in the slower tracks where he truly shows how dense and powerful the riffs are. Nemtheanga on the other hand obliterates the bass, and equals Deegan’s intensity with pulsing bass lines that feel and sound gigantic, like roaring of thunder, and of course Matt Bree rounds everything up with his monolithic drumming, and much like the bass and guitars, it's in the slow parts of the songs where you feel how intense and overwhelming the music is, and can stay still and in awe about how black metal this dense and thick is the work of three people. And speaking of that, despite being 5 tracks and just over 40 minutes, the album is a crawling descent into darkness and it never feels monotonous or boring. That’s how you know Verminous Serpent are onto something, as their style of grueling and droning black metal could’ve easily veer into monotony and lethargic boredom had it been in lesser hands, but this cacophony of desolation isn’t in lesser hands, whatsoever, and the centerpiece of the album, where the band truly display their strengths and the absolute best track, is the closer ‘Deaths Head Mantra’, clocking at 13 minutes, this is where the band truly and absolutely prove themselves and show that this style of cacophonous black metal can be more than just distorted reverb and echoing vocals.
To close off I want to mention the production, which is definitely in the same realm of Malthusian and Slidhr, being polished enough to highlight the instruments, but gritty enough for the music to sound and feel intense, which is an achievement in it of itself, since many bands that opt for the super dark, extremely dissonant black metal end up either sounding like Antaeus clones, or do such a poor job mixing their music that it just sounds like a trebly sludge, but Verminous Serpent did neither, they nailed it. And finally, while this is a truly remarkable record, the one disclaimer I’ll give is that the band are playing a very, very specific niche for themselves, and less patient people who only want riffs might feel like the band are taking forever, which isn’t true, of course, but to anyone wanting to check Verminous Serpent, know you this, The Malign Covenant isn’t a record you play to mosh, it’s a record you let wash over you and drown you in endless darkness, so patience is a must.
Best tracks: 'Seraphim Falls', 'The Malign Covenant', 'Deaths Head Mantra'
Rating: 8.5 out of 10171