Band: Heads for the Dead
Album: Serpent’s Curse
Label: Transcending Obscurity
Genre: Death Metal / Doom Metal
Release Date: September 24, 2018
2018 has been an absolutely incredible year for death metal in my opinion. There are always a slew of releases coming out, but this year I’ve enjoyed the mass majority that I’ve taken the time to listen to. Heads for the Dead are formed from pieces of Wommbath, Ursinne & Revel in Flesh, couple that with their debut LP being released on Transcending Obscurity records and you have yourself a heavy piece of hype. Now, is the hype warranted? Absolutely. On the surface, Serpent’s Curse looks like a haunting piece of death metal that is inspired by black and white horror films (The “R” rating for Crypts of Horror: Drenched in Fathomless Darkness was a nice touch). This time around, what you see is what you get. Heads for the Dead have put forth a truly evil death metal record that has a thick veil of doom layered over it.
The album starts out with a great one-two punch (which is also the full name of the album, title track and band name track both) Serpent’s Curse heading into Heads for the Dead. Serpent’s curse begins with some ambient electronic noise that really puts you into the dark landscape that this record traverses. After the intro you are met with a slow chugging riff that allows Ralf Hauber to truly welcome you to Serpent’s Curse. The next track Heads for the Dead is slightly faster and more in your face than its predecessor. Both tracks feature a guest guitar solo, that are ferocious and fast enough to be missed due to an ill-timed sneeze. This is right off the bat, death metal made for people who like death metal.
Later songs in the album like Deep Below and The Awakening, show off HFTD’s slower doomier styling. Both tracks go over the five minute mark, and on a 10-track / 36 minute album they are definitely the outliers on the record. These “long” tracks are immensely heavy and brimming with horror in their soundscapes. On repeated listens these tracks felt longer (because they were?) and it didn’t necessarily make them bad tracks, but I definitely preferred the in your face songs like Post Mortem Suffering.
Ralf did all the vocals and lyrics for this album, and it would be a complete disservice to not gush about his performance. He is completely understandable (a very underrated quality IMO) in every vocal style he does; whether they are deep guttural bellows, hallowed shrieks or anywhere in between. Ralf has no weaknesses in his performance throughout the entire record if you ask me, simply impressive. Check out the song Gate Creeper and try to disagree with me… please.
Jonny Pettersson is who is behind all the music (There was a session drummer added for recording) and production for Serpent’s Curse. Regardless of how you feel about this album, that is remarkable. Jonny’s production job suits this album very well. You can feel the dread and the horror throughout the entire runtime, without taking away from the music itself. If I could pick out one thing from the production that bothered me it would be the bass, or lack thereof. I just feel like I spent a lot of time listening for the bass and unless the rest of the music dropped out or took a backseat it seemed to be missing. I always say that I think bass guitar is an underutilized and underappreciated instrument in metal, and unfortunately this album keeps that trope alive and well. But don’t let that trick you into thinking that the music is lacking, it isn’t. The riffs are really fitting and give me top-tier Napalm Death vibes.
I don’t have a lot of negative things to say about this record. I’ve got a few contretemps on the way the instrumentation can get lost under the dirty production, but as a whole it really fits the theme of the record so I can’t be too upset really. I do wish the bass was more prevalent. I refuse to excuse the lack of bass throughout, it would only add to the atmosphere that HFTD has created. Another nitpick I could add would be that other than the first two songs there aren’t a ton of ear worms that will stay with you. That being said, every listen has been enjoyable and I had no struggles turning this on over the past few weeks and absolutely will be returning to it.
Being a “supergroup” Heads for the Dead definitely had larger expectations going into their debut LP than most bands do. Serpent’s Curse meets the expectations through tight, no bullshit songwriting combined with an absolutely marvelous vocal performance. The album flows very nicely with a diverse set of songs that only lasts 36 minutes, tempting you to replay it again and again. Heads for the Dead are wholly original and a standout contender in a cramped year of meritorious death metal.
1. Serpent’s Curse
2. Heads for the Dead
3. Deep Below
4. Post Mortem Suffering
5. The Awakening
6. Death Calls
7. Of Wrath and Vengeance
8. Gate Creeper
9. Return to Fathomless Darkness
10. In Darkness I Feel No Regrets (Wolfbrigade cover)
Total Playing Time: 36:04
I’m pretty great. Just ask me, I’ll tell ya.