Black metal may be packed to the corpse-painted gills with subgenres and offshoots, but occasionally all you need is a return to the basics: blast beats, relentless tremolo riffing, and anguished, anti-religious screaming. Sweden has always been my country of choice for this combination, spawning such long-running acts as Marduk, Watain or Dark Funeral, as well as relative newcomers like Blood of Serpents. This last outfit’s second full-length, Sulphur Sovereign, blends all these stylistic tropes and themes in a way that still sounds fresh and authentic.
Sulphur Sovereign is definitely not for the faint of heart: by way of example, not only does “Devil’s Tongue” assault the listener with overwhelmingly Satanic overtones, but with driving, martial bombast that will leave the meek and mild shellshocked: even the momentary respite given by the left-channel-only pause around a third of the way does not last long. But it’s the repetitive, hypnotic bridge leading to the final third of the song that makes this a standout – the minimal rhythm section underscores the tension building and begging for release. “Evictor of Christ” likewise wastes no time in getting to grips with the seeping, suppurating evil, also delivered with searing intensity. The sudden calm of the guitar-only intro of “As the Temple Burns”, coupled with its lowered tempo is almost a balm after these two. The choral chants in the second half are a thing of beauty, too, and a compositional link to the more melodic approach exercised on “Canticle”.
“In Darkness, Brotherhood” that is where you’ll find the answers.
Overall, Sulphur Sovereign is a monster of a record: uncompromising and heavier than a thermos of Mercury. Factor in a typically Swedish, rich guitar tone (“Prophet of a False Faith” illustrates this particularly well) and well-balanced, quality mastering, and the listening experience is rewarding – no second-wave, lo-fi recording through second-hand amps  to be had here. Admittedly, the formula is one that all the aforementioned bands have applied repeatedly and to great effect in the past – but the venom and vitriol with which Blood of Serpents apply themselves to this recipe makes for an exciting descent into their musical maelstrom.
While 2014’s Black Dawn record smacked more of a derivative tribute to acts like Satyricon and Darkthrone, Sulphur Sovereign displays a far more mature approach and consequently a more authentic attitude: the recent addition of Throne of Heresy frontman Thomas Clifford delivers a far gruffer, death-like presence to the ensemble that better suits the unyielding battery of Blood of Serpents’ compositions.
You know you’re in for trouble when you hear the hiss of the “Devil’s Tongue”.
Sulphur Sovereign Track Listing:
01. Mater Tenebris
02. In Darkness, Brotherhood
03. Devil’s Tongue
04. Evictor of Christ
05. As the Temple Burns
07. As Nocturnal Dimensions Beckon
08. Upon Waters Dark
09. Prophet of a False Faith
10. A Void Between Worlds
Run Time: 48:11
Release Date: September 25, 2018
Record Label: Non Serviam Records
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