Generation of Vipers - Grace
Like the spiraling center of gravity deep within a black star, Generation of Vipers draw you in before crushing your bones into fine, glittery powder. A promising young three-piece out of Tennessee, Generation of Vipers seem to be aiming for the gaping hole in the metal underground first blown wide open by Neurosis about a decade or so ago. With that band's recording output being sporadic at best and non-existent at worst, and similar acts like Cult of Luna and ISIS looking to mine new territories, Generation of Vipers are atmospheric sludge with an emphasis on SLUDGE. The four tracks on this self-produced EP might deceive with its icy glitter and cold sheen, but at its heart this is a slow-moving glacier of crushing frostbite.
With these metaphors in place, Grace is in reality less a debut recording and more a statement of intent. I'm sure that fans of this genre (or just of the aforementioned bands) will be able to tell right away that this disc is brimming with potential but is still the work of a new band. Grace experiments with the formula of carthartic, largely instrumental groove, but only a little. In fact, as a fan of said genre, the scariest part of listening to this disc is not how much Generation of Vipers might sound like a Neurosis, ISIS, or Pelican at times, but rather how good they are at it. To be blatantly honest, I disliked the vague folk leanings of the last Cult of Luna album, and as much as I love ISIS and their Absence of Truth, I can't help but wish that said disc had a bit more explosiveness to it ala earlier ISIS works.
I'll be blunt folks; Grace is just that. Taking less of the atmospheric metal genre's buzzing whisper and sonic caress, it opts more for the style's gigantic, plodding avalanches of sound. It what is in my mind becoming increasingly rare in other bands playing this style, Generation of Vipers utilizes the heavy to make their softer passages that much more suffocating and dark, rather than the lighter sections to add weight to the heavier portions. I believe that this approach is inherently better, and Generation of Vipers is remarkably talented for such a young band when it comes to grooving your face clean off into a swirling vortex of cosmic ambience.
For example, the largely symbolic "Thaw" kicks the disc off with understated menace. A folksy clean guitar plucks up-and-down moody strums as brilliant stars of sound crackle, fizzle, and pop in the far-off distance. When the vocals kick in with their smoked-out dull roars, one can easily visualize some poor soul trapped in ice screaming as he hopelessly wiggles in a vain attempt to get free.
These mental elements aren't really repelled by "O Great Deceiver" but rather amplified by it. From here on out, the disc evolves into what is essentially a quasi-spiritual experience. With all the fluid and glistening shine of mercury (as well as the toxicity of it) Generation of Vipers first lures you in with a calming buzz and some rhythmic grooves. As the guitar breaks out in a sonic swoon, it becomes almost impossible to avoid cranking the stereo and letting this sick puppy rip. Tight to the point of being claustrophobic, this song is to be much lauded for walking a fine line between meandering melancholy and actual song structure. At almost eight minutes long, there are plenty of highlights, and my favorite sections include thunderbursts of churning percussion, a plunge into white crests of bubbling noise and back again, and the song's excellent ray of light guitar finale at about the four-and-a-half minute mark. It burns itself down into a glowing ember of buzzing rage, and perfectly caps off what is quite the blood-pumping start.
The absolutely massive "In the Crushing Fists of God" reels listeners in on a hazy cloud of organic, humming guitar before bursting into a monstrous wall of sound. "God" is as surprising as brimstone falling from the sky and every bit as luminous. As the centerpiece of the EP as a whole, the race is on for this song to maintain my interest for nineteen minutes or so and Generation of Vipers excel at just that. The band has an uncanny knack for adding that tiny little twist of variation at just the right moment, and every time you think they've gone into the deepest depths of heavy that they can manage another layer of raw distortion kicks in, a brutal smattering of double-bass here, a titanic riff there, all of it adding up to a compelling headspace of explosive heavy music. The caustic howls passing for vocals here are that much more ripping when everything save a whispering guitar tone are left to back them, and restrained drums in the background pump rhythm like a whale's cardiovascular system. To sum the tune up in one word....ENORMOUS.
Closing effort "Blood in the Belly" just might be the best cut on the entire album. As an initial buzz builds into a raw, serrated sludge riff that can hang with Cult of Luna's defining work, the song builds itself into a shaking cosmic disturbance. No matter what (be it the proggy leads that shock and awe, outpourings of genuine roaring intensity, or chilling descents into crystalline ambience) the song is about being nothing but gigantic noise. Unlike the earlier songs with their periods of breathing space amidst the twinkling clean guitars or soft passages of melancholy distortion, "Blood in the Belly" is just constant, open-ended sludge, like a huge sewage pipe belching forth bile endlessly into your eardrums. Great stuff!
As put forth earlier, this is a damn good start for such a recent musical entity, but it is not perfect. For now, Generation of Vipers have only begun what I am assuming will be a journey far removed from other bands in this style of metal. Unlike other acts (Minsk, and to a lesser extent, Cult of Luna) Generation of Vipers rarely fall into a trap of making songs that are long for the sake of huge track times. 95% of this album feels natural and free, just like it should. With little pointless diversion or lost wandering, this is as concise an album as one can get within this genre of music and perhaps time will allow GOV to grow into a fully-functional unique entity all their own. The star-kissed folk portions are a nice touch, and I also dig the fact that this has a lot more balls than some of the top bands in the field! With a new recording in the works and more to come soon, I'm guessing it is only a matter of time before these guys get more pointed recognition. Keep an eye out.
2. O Great Deceiver
3. In the Crushing Fists of God
4. Blood in the Belly
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