REVIEW: Serpent Bearer – Dark Matter [EP/2014]


Artist: Serpent Bearer

Album: Dark Matter – EP


According to popular science fiction—and that one Futurama episode—Dark Matter is a source of nearly boundless potential energy and is unfathomably dense. This material is hypothesized to account for gravitational oddities that result in a near-infinite density, but a negative mass. The result? A source of unlimited energy that is so dark and dense that it drains the heaviness from its surroundings—and no title could better fit the debut release from Virginian eviscerators, Serpent Bearer. Unleashing hell with a unique, frantic display of down-tempo deathcore mastery, Serpent Bearer provide a dense, oppressive experience that is practically made of energy—all without making itself too suffocating or boring, making other bands’ heaviest releases look like featherweights.

Deep, dissonant density—this is one of the defining characteristics of Dark Matter—a characteristic demonstrated with masterful prowess by Serpent Bearer. Every second of Dark Matter is built upon a foundation of looming, luscious percussion, as provided by Scott Booth. Booth batters the listener with in-your-face drumming that features bright, crashing cymbals and low, explosive toms and kick-drum, all offset by a sharp, whip-crack snare. “Shipwrecked” is one track that displays Booth’s beautiful tone and boisterous skill equally—beginning the song with aggressive, rapid patterns only to devolve and degenerate into crushing sequences of over-the-top heaviness that hit the listener like tidal waves. One thing that adds to the depth and ferocity of Booth’s percussive onslaught is the bass work of Damon Keneipp. Keneipp takes Booth’s already earth-shaking kick drum and adds slinking, grooving aggression to it, making each pounding hit that much deeper—to a point that every time Keneipp and Booth bust out a low note, the listener can practically feel their innards gelatinizing. While it would be a relief to say that Serpent Bearer’s berating low-end is defined purely by Keneipp and Booth, that would be a lie—as both guitarists, Aaron Carnes and Johnny Cruz, are capable of inflicting pure prolapse with gut-wrenching, filth-covered chugs that rock the listener to their very soul. It doesn’t end there, however, as Cruz and Carnes are not just masterful with murderous, muddy chugs, but grimy grooves and skin-shredding riffs alike. The adequately named “Earth Shaker” displays this brilliantly—beginning with gory, twisting grooves, but also working in flashy flourishes across the fretboard to give both brilliant color and brooding despair.

Defined in one part by density, Dark Matter is also quantified by the amount of energy stored within. This is the department of vocalist Braeden Branch—who provides visceral, driving force behind each syllable he delivers to make Dark Matter a memorable, engaging—and diverse—experience. Tracks like the aforementioned “Shipwrecked” or the epic “Guillotine” display the full extend of Branch’s extraordinary talent. Reaching sullen, soil-soaked low growls and fierce, firey high-pitched screams with equal ease, Branch is nothing short of a master when it comes to harsh vocals. “Earth Shaker” even includes oddities among his range; a half-spoken, half-screamed slurr, for one. The point is that where Serpent Bearer’s instrumentation is primarily dark, dense and dismal, Branch’s vocals are loaded with diversity and energy—enough to make Dark Matter one of the most unique releases of any subdivision within heavy music in recent history.

The one-two punch of dark, brooding and dense instrumentation combined with driving, frantic vocals is absolutely lethal (in the best way possible). For example, examine “Bad News.” Kicked off with low, fast instrumentation and gut-twisting grooves, Branch leads the way with tongue-twisting, throat-shredding screams that feel as if they are splitting the listener’s skull in twain. However, as the track progresses, the instrumentation swaps speed for sinister, sullen intensity, as Booth swings at the listener’s ribcage with every smash of the tom and stomp of the kick. Right there aside him are Cruz and Carnes, chugging and plodding along, snapping bone and splitting flesh with every strike of the string. The beauty is that even at their darkest and heaviest, Serpent Bearer—due to Branch’s brilliant vocals—never lack energy or fury, as their previously lightning-like instrumentation gives them enough momentum to plow through mountains.

Dark Matter unfurls its tentacles, and like a thousand needle-thin snakes, winds its way into the listener’s head, infecting their mind and weighing them down. Serpent Bearer are cunning, crushing and creative—a deadly trifecta—making them one of the most prodigally talented and punishingly heavy deathcore acts to take the scene by storm.



For Fans Of: Kingmaker, Oceano, Traitors, Barrier

By: Connor Welsh