Saturday, March 9, 2013

Njiqahdda - Serpents In The Sky

Njiqahdda occupy a unique subrealm of the USBM scene. The Illinois duo have shifted styles multiple times. with droning ambient, psychedelia, black metal, doom metal, and even spritzes of technical death metal finding a way into their eclectic sound. Serpents In The Sky is another paradigm shift for a band that is always willing to progress their sound in whatever direction they see fit, and this time that direction happens to be towards the heavens.

Serpents In The Sky is a blissful array of black, stoner doom metal ascendancy. While many fans have decried the simplification of Njiqahdda's complex sound on The Path Of Liberation From Birth To Death, I for one welcome this change. I greatly enjoyed that album, and while this album is a far cry from it musically, some elements of their previous sound(s) remain: fresh chord progressions, distorted vocals, insightful lyrics, and a solid production all combine to create an atmosphere of transcendent nirvana.

I believe the first thing that hit me about Serpents was the more direct riffing style. I'm not sure if Ain (the rhythm component of the duo) had more input in the songwriting process or not, but this album contains far more droning melodies and simple doom metal riffing patterns than some of their previous work. The tracks don't suffer because of this, but they are certainly easier to retain. The occasional noise segments are still present, but are mostly embellishments at the beginning or end of tracks than fully-realized musical elements. Intelligible vocals, both harsh and clean, by Ihr and Ain are an enjoyable facet of Njiqahdda's music that are clearly more present on Serpents as well. The distortion applied to the vocals adds some interplay to the low mixed, high gain guitars. The bass tone remains oddly dry just like it did on their previous releases although it is mixed slightly lower, but the mastering feels lower in volume anyway now that I think about it.

This album is far more "beautiful" than The Path Of Liberation with all its chromaticism and unpredictability, although that one was beautiful in its own right. The droning title track of Serpents is the apex of the album's beauteous atmosphere with its memorable use of pleasant yet dark sounding chords. The previous tracks all leave hints with these chords' musical relatives popping up on the comparatively aggressive "She Which Water Holds," and prelude "Exclave." The earlier tracks on the album are far more black metal in nature with blastbeats, harsh vocals, and harder-hitting riffs all playing integral parts in conveying Serpents In The Sky's complex atmosphere. It's almost as you can feel yourself lifting off of a hard, barren planet's surface and into a swirling cloud of stars as the album progresses from "Gaia" to "...And The Men Behind The Sun." Speaking of which, the seventeen-and-a-half minute closer is a bit underwhelming following the whole build up to the accessible title track. Whatever the case it does successfully end the engrossing sonic journey.

I'm all for change if a band is able to handle the transition with some integrity, and Njiqahdda have done just that with Serpents In The Sky. While not as directly unique as some of their previous albums, this release is still memorable and contains much of Njiqahdda's special sound.

8.5 out of 10

1. Gaia
2. The Veil Of Allaeius
3. With Clouds
4. She Which Water Holds
5. Exclave
6. Serpents In The Sky...
7. ...And The Men Behind The Sun


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