What defines ‘unreached potential?’ This is the question I’ve asked myself ever since Job For A Cowboy dropped the vague, brutal death metal posturing of their middle discography and presented 2014’s Sun Eater, a sprawling progressive death metal opus defined by loud and spindly bass lines and esoteric guitar arrangements.
Gone were the days of cudgel riffs marched forward on an infinite stretch of blast beats and hi-hats; a string of songs only clearly defined by where the needle dropped down and where it finally halted. Instead, listeners were treated to mindful compositions full of varied tempos, moods, and lyrical themes, entirely different perceptions from their past catalog. And with those adjustments to sound and quality came higher expectations for future content.
Unfortunately, that content never came. Job For A Cowboy went on indefinite hiatus after playing a single show in promotion of that very same album. A post on their social media feed suggested that they (or someone else) had burned their touring van, and, with that final motion, the camp came to a final, massive hush. For all intents and purposes, fans were led to believe that the act had disbanded.
Shoot forward five years. A new project emerges from the obscure metal label, 1126 Records featuring 3/5ths of the Sun Eater lineup, as well as The Black Dahlia Murder bassist Max Lavelle and Deeds Of Flesh drummer Darren Cesca. Its first single is a violent burst of grindcore riffs propelled forward with gravity blasts, bile washed lyrics, and filth infused bass grooves. It seethes, and it spews, and then it misdirects. It does this several times before it ends at the edge of a massive precipice. And you’re left with way too much adrenaline and sweat.
As far as the rest of Serpent of Gnosis’s debut, As I Drink From The Infinite Well Of Inebriation is concerned, the spiraling grindcore approach of that reprehensible single is par for the course. Guitarists Allan Glassman and Tony Sannicandro have finally found fruition in the brutal death metal tangents that formed 2012’s Demonocracy by compressing down the compositions to grindcore-like lengths and constantly varying tempos and trajectories, a la that final 2014 album. Calling this “technical grindcore” wouldn’t be particularly outlandish, as it easily finds a middle ground between bands like Decrepit Birth and Pig Destroyer. And Jonny Davy’s low-throated bellow of a vocal performance easily compounds the two.
While the lyrical foray found herein will feel par for the course as far as death metal is concerned (demons, endless wells, other nonsense), it is especially eloquent, which is hilarious because its actual performance is guttural, inhuman and spat with enough vehemence to perturb half the Vatican. It is deranged and maniacal, and it is a dimension in and of itself. Its production, however, holds it back from complete devastation, though, and that may certainly be the biggest caveat here regarding the entire mix.
In a word, it’s ugly, and while that may have very well been the band’s intention, it does more to muddle the band’s intricate compositions than it does to add snarl. Finding that balance of grit and coherency is undoubtedly a complex formula in metal, but this one tips the scale a little too far in the wrong direction. Compositions will lose focus; Davy will sound like he’s either swallowing the guitars or lost in a series of manic layers and, in general, the tracks will lose serious definition in spots. It shouldn’t deter the majority of listeners, but it is disappointing when compared to how distinct and punchy each member’s previous projects have been.
Overall, however, Serpent of Gnosis have dropped a seriously perturbing debut album, full of raucous grind riffs, throat eviscerating screams, and manic, blasting drum passages. While As I Drink From The Infinite Well Of Inebriation only clocks in at a meager 21 minutes, it packs that runtime with enough bends, twists and general absurdities to keep you returning again and again to discern just a little more of the madness.
Job For A Cowboy may never see their full potential realized, but because of the journey that led both of their guitarists to this project, I’m fully confident Serpent of Gnosis absolutely will. And I’m looking forward to whatever ugly form that takes in the future.