Norselaw: Serpent in the Circling Sea

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Norselaw: Serpent in the Circling Sea
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Norselaw: Serpent in the Circling Sea
Avant-Garde Black Metal, Hardcore, Punk
Self-release
2013
Release length: 37:32
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Norselaw may appear like a Stoner or Sludge Metal group in the vein of early Mastodon when judged solely by their artwork, but appearances are quite deceiving. Infact, their musical influences seem to go all over the place. Their a mixture of early Black Metal and Punk ideas, and has been burrowing deep in the Metal’s underground for the past few years. 2010 saw the release of their debut album Rape You Like a Gentleman, followed by the five song EP Moon Hunters. 2013 saw their latest effort Serpent in the Circling Sea drop independently once more. But is it more of the eccentric material the band obviously has fun playing, or is it more a streamlined effort that is much easier to categorize?

Serpent in the Circling Sea takes the band’s previous Avant-Garde approach and completely obliterates expectations from the previous outings. The audio quality carries a seventies to early eighties monotone quality that comes off more like a garage performance with the guitars, but the bass, drums and vocals still come through clearly. It’s an odd mixture that works for the rather off-the-wall musical directions and genres utilized that range throughout NWOBHM, Punk, Black Metal (both first wave and second), Sludge, Stoner, and generally Experimental just to name a few of the styles that make up this effort.

Nearly everything that was stated in the previous paragraph can be found in the opening title track. The tinny guitar chords set up an aquatic Sludge Metal environment with a back-alley eighties twist before the rich, somewhat psychedelic distortions that sound more like the Ghostbusters proton packs kick in against a catchy rhythm from the bass and drums. The performance sounds a bit thin in the main verses, but the subtle bass presence helps to keep those passages alive. This all leads to off-key singing you want to hate but simply can’t picture not being there, and brief raspy shouting to round out the head bang worthy chorus. About four minutes in you are greeted with some groove heavy riffs that usher in visceral Black Metal that lunges for the throat while getting a little experimental in the structure of the riffs.

The Punk influence shows up on the largely upbeat “Wasteland Wanderer,” a Metal anthem that plays off like the sarcastic “Hail Mighty North/Forest Trolls of Satan (Anno Cliroris 666 Opus II)” by Dying Fetus. It’s a fun experience from start to finish, even when the happy and joyous atmosphere suddenly comes down with crushing negativity for a brief amount of time towards the end. Meanwhile there’s “Mirror Maize” with it’s Thrash heavy riffs and additional speed. The bass guitar really shines through in the main verses, which give way to Soft Rock riffs that feel more eccentric than anything. If you’ve heard anything Gwar has done recently, then you’ll get the general idea of the sudden shifts and tongue-in-cheek seriousness the song as a whole contains, especially the Blues driven guitar solo just past the two minute mark. “Fungi from Yuggoth” can have that comparison, though there are some riffs later, as well as a chorus that give it more of a psychedelic Stoner Rock touch.

“Children of the Storm” cannot be explained away so easily. The edgy Punk influence is there towards the start, and the chorus has a nice psychedelic touch, but eventually it becomes a cluster of riffs and lyrics that only seem to make sense in the way a Fantomas album would. While it manages to remain enjoyable, “Beyond the Dawns Last Radar” drops the ball a bit. This slower cut is one of the more overall aggressive performances outside the solo, which finds some upbeat backing riffs behind it. This focuses more on a Hardcore performance wrapped in a Black Metal overcoat, rich in breakdowns and even some authority when the vocals are concerned. The chorus does break into some catchy Punk hooks again, which is where the real life of the performance is. While not a bad track, most of it just sounds a bit too standard to the point where even the band can sound a bit bored with it after a while, unlike on “Return of the Wolf.” This is a solid slab of early Hardcore Punk with a sinister twist that thankfully doesn’t cross into Horror Punk territory.

Serpents in the Circling Sea is an effort that definitely won’t appeal to everyone, being aimed to those tired of the same old regurgitated structures, patterns, as well as even the sound of the instruments in the Metal and Punk worlds today. It’s as if Norselaw came up with one of the most engaging and unique album in years designed with the sole intent of pissing off music theorists everywhere, took a hammer to it, and just tossed the misshapen mass at your feet demanding you put the pieces together yourself. At first it makes absolutely no sense, but the more time you put into understanding it, the more logical it all becomes, and the more it puts modern Darkthrone albums to shame. Serpent in the Circling Sea is a raw, abrasive assault on common musical decency, and that’s exactly why this experience so incredibly addicting and worthwhile.

01. Serpent in the Circling Sea – 6:08
02. Wasteland Wanderer – 3:11
03. Green Laser – 0:54
04. Beyond the Dawns Last Radar – 3:54
05. Mirror Maize – 3:41
06. Return of the Wolf – 3:20
07. Children of the Storm – 3:34
08. Fungi from Yuggoth – 3:34
09. Servants of the State – 3:43
10. Winterfell – 5:33
Initial Pressing Score: 9/10
Physical review copy of this release provided by Norselaw.