I want to make something clear at the start of this review: Heads for the Dead are a very good band, and Serpent’s Curse contains some excellent songs. Given that the international band features a whole host of experience – with main member, multi-instrumentalist Johnny Pettersson being in about a dozen different extreme metal bands of various styles – it would be a surprise if that was not the case. But it’s also an album that can be slightly frustrating, where its own ambition gets the better of it. Being a tour-de-force of different styles of death metal, Serpent’s Curse ends up being somewhat inconsistent, and less than the sum of its parts. But despite this, it is still a very good album, and one that I recommend whole-heartedly.
The opening title track is one of the strongest on the album. Once the ominous introductory movement is done with, the track lurches into classic death metal of excellent quality, that’s like some long lost Swedeath classic – dirty, nasty, and full of killer riffs. Following track, ‘Head for the Dead’, is much shorter and angrier, with more than a touch of classic British death metal to its belligerent stomp. This is followed by ‘Deep Below’, an ominous, down-tempo track that’s not far removed from Paradise Lost’s recently slower songs – albeit much heavier and nastier, with harsh vocals that promise no salvation.
Individually, each of these songs are brilliant, showcasing a mastery of their chosen death metal style. But as an album, there is a disjointedness about them; the feeling that you’re not so much listening to an album, but a collection of songs. This continues throughout, with the grinding ‘Post Morterm Suffering’ siting alongside death-doom monolith ‘The Awakening’, which is followed by the 61 seconds of ‘Death Calls’; and so on and so forth, until the album ends. It’s frustrating, as there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of the songs; but the lack of flow between tracks stops Serpent’s Curse being the world-beater it so nearly is.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression – I’ve enjoyed my time with Serpent’s Curse a lot. It’s the kind of album that helps sum up all that is great about death metal. But, that’s also the problem. It feels almost wrong to fault an album for being too ambitious and varied, but that’s the downfall of Serpent’s Curse. Yet I also can’t emphasise enough how great the individual songs are – every track on the album is an absolute killer, the kind of song that will have you head-banging and air drumming at your desk. It’s just that it needs more focus; or perhaps to just re-arrange the track order. Serpent’s Curse is, on a track-by-track basis, so very, very good; but as an album, it’s inconsistent tone make it slightly frustrating. It’s still an album that’s more than worth your time, though, but I suspect the future is where we’ll really see the best from Heads for the Dead.