Written by Ellis Heasley
Urne – Serpent & Spirit
Prog/Thrash/Metal from London, UK
Releases June 25th via Candlelight Records
Ever get those albums you really want to love before you’ve even heard a note? For me, Serpent & Spirit, the debut full-length from London-based trio Urne, was definitely one of those records. The band’s 2018 debut EP The Mountain Of Gold showed plenty of riff-heavy and pummelling promise, as did the fact that two thirds of their line-up boasted experience in UK sludgy hardcore heroes Hang The Bastard. Fortunately, this record comfortably lives up to expectations, making for 56 minutes and eight tracks of ambitious and expansive heavy metal that’s hard to pigeonhole.
The album’s press release promises listeners shades of Mastodon, 80s Metallica and Alice In Chains. None of those comparisons should be made lightly, but to be fair to Urne, you can hear all of them here and then some. Serpent & Spirit is a tour de force of all things heavy, touching on prog, thrash, hardcore and more, all the way through to the extremes of doom and even black metal. All this is then centred on the album’s concept of a character who’s gradually pulled from light to darkness by the record’s titular serpent who the band describe as being representative of “the evil that tricks your mind.” Granted, that’s perhaps not the most original concept for an album, but truth be told you don’t really need to follow it too closely to get plenty of enjoyment out of this.
Surely one of the strongest features of Serpent & Spirit is the performance of vocalist/bassist Joe Nally. Nally makes for a versatile singer in particular, announcing himself on the album’s massive opening title track with a thunderous cry of (“The devil speaks to me through my dreams”). Later on the same track, as well as on several others, he opts for powerful Hetfield-esque cleans which lend the music a sense of grandeur and a real epic feel.
These powerful vocals are backed up by equally solid instrumentation throughout. Every track sees Nally, guitarist Angus Neyra, and drummer Richard Harris firing on all cylinders, with third track “Memorial” giving them an obvious chance to shine. This takes the form of an eight-and-a-half-minute instrumental, and journeys from moments of groove-heavy head-banging stomp, to complex odd time signatures, and even to quite emotive and melodic territory for a good couple of minutes in its latter half. Much like the rest of the record, the track boasts plenty of invariably crushing riffs, and Neyra in particular gets a real chance to shine with multiple impressive and lengthy guitar solos.
There are a fair few highlights to choose from on Serpent & Spirit. The aforementioned opener is definitely one of them, towering over its listeners with an expansive and imposing nine-minute runtime. Many others are similarly lengthy, with fifth track “Desolate Heart” also nearly hitting the nine-minute mark and making for another definite high in the process. It kicks off with rapid and impressive guitar riffing before going on to mix in blast beats, more solos, a sparse and delicate break, and even flashes of something you might hear on a later Converge record for a genuinely masterful piece. Seventh track “Memorial – Sing Me To Rest” also deserves a mention, opening in far quieter and more mournful territory than much of the rest of the record before eventually launching into a slow-moving and emotional heaviness that even takes a turn towards the atmospheric black metal stylings of earlier Deafheaven.
If we’re being harsh, you could probably accuse this album of being a touch too long. Urne definitely do a lot of different things on this record, but, a few moments on later tracks aside, it’s perhaps not quite as dynamically varied as some of the very best albums that exhibit a similar level of ambition as this. That’s definitely nitpicking though; when the quality is as consistently high as it is here, it would be unfair to say there’s any real risk of listeners losing interest. Instead, Serpent & Spirit makes for a weighty and well-crafted debut album which should put Urne on a lot more radars in the months to come.