FREELOADER: DEREK RODDY’S SERPENTS RISE
Welcome to the latest edition of “Freeloader” in which we review albums that you don’t have to feel like a douche for downloading for free. Today Satan Rosenbloom checks out the debut release from Derek Roddy’s Serpents Rise.
It seems like only yesterday that MetalSucks posted the he said/he said account of journeyman drummer Derek Roddy’s departure from Today Is the Day. We know from Steve Austin’s marathon bitch session with Axl back in 2008 that the TITD frontman found Roddy to be a whiny, egomaniacal toolbag that hated his fans and only cared about money.
While I don’t know enough about Roddy to confirm or deny those accusations, the distribution plan for the long-awaited debut by his instrumental Serpents Rise project paints Roddy as a lot more fan-friendly than Austin’s criticisms would suggest. Roddy’s talked to the press about his intention to release the album for free since 2006, the same year he left Hate Eternal; he released a number of free demo tracks via his website in 2008, and followed through with a free finished product in late 2010. And he’s also up-front about involving fans in the project. Quoth the Rowdy Roddy on his website forum: “Serpents Rise….is an instrumental entity…But, this does not mean that we are opposed to hearing what vocal possibilities exist….Whether in your car, in your bedroom, on stage covering one of our songs, posting clips of you singing our tunes on YouTube OR….in the event that we show up in your town…..you sing with us on stage! Have fun…create!” Does that sound like the sentiment of an egomaniacal toolbag?
I say nay, and the album’s not a toolbag’s album, either. Musically, Serpents Rise serves up ripping, Hate Eternal-esque death metal without the relentlessness that makes Hate Eternal records so insurmountable. Five guitarists in total contributed (including some of Roddy’s buds from Divine Empire and The Deboning Method), and songs like “Intertwine” and “The Cataplexy Event” are as layered with dissonant riffing and wicked solos as that’d suggest. The guitars incorporate an arpeggio leitmotif into almost all of the heavy tracks, and there’s a Where’s Waldo? joy in hearing it permutate throughout the album. Background loops and effects turn “Invasive Swahngi” and “Signs of identity” into big moaning beasts of weird ambience. While Roddy ‘n Co. go overboard with three interludes tracks, and make some questionable textural decisions (does “Signs of Identity” – or any music – really benefit from that Jew’s harp?), it doesn’t do much to take away from the quality death metal underneath.
As you might have expected from a project helmed by a respected drum clinician, drumming is the main attrasction on Serpents Rise. Roddy logs plenty of his trademark blastbeat passages, but he’s also cleared out opportunities for percussive invention. There are subtleties to Roddy’s playing here that he hasn’t had a chance to display in his session work with Malevolent Creation, Nile or Today Is the Day. There’s a trick I’m still trying to figure out around the 2:40 mark in “Invasive Swanghi,” where Roddy seems to layer triplets over the existing double-time blastbeat current. He throws in all kinds of Indian percussion and frame drums, and invited two auxiliary percussionists (and a rattlesnake!) to add to the album’s rhythmic stew. It’s a treat to hear a guy this talented play whatever he wants. And for a top-flight death metal drummer, Roddy stays admirably restrained on Serpents Rise, focusing more on controlled invention than extravagant fills or solos.
The one major shortcoming of the project is the same quality that makes Roddy’s distribution plan so unique. There was so much time and thought put into Serpents Rise, from the seamless flow of the tracks to the thoughtful descriptions Roddy wrote to accompany them. But where a band like Blotted Science (another patron of Roddy’s talents) fully earned its instrumental status, there’s really nothing so unique about the songwriting on Serpents Rise, nothing that extravagant about the performances, that would eliminate the need for a human voice. The album offers plenty of ripping death metal – they’re harmonically and rhythmically dense, just begging for the focusing presence of a vocalist. Roddy’s annotations point to some cool metaphysical concepts he had in mind, so why not go all the way and translate them into lyrics? (Let’s all hope that Roddy’s got no intentions for a Limp Bizkit-style vocalist auditionin the future). As is, Serpents Rise is a set of quality backing tracks, just waiting for the right vocalist to tie it all together.
(3 out of 5 horns up)
Download Serpents Rise at Derek Roddy’s website.