“Hey, Ho, I need to try, I don’t breathe , he’s still there, not very far”, cries an anxious Aruna Jade to the backdrop of a frantic bassline on “Headhunters”. These words echo in the back of your mind, as you imagine yourself being chased by an ominous presence continuously creeping to the tune of Manas Chowdhary’s electric bass. Rather than capturing momentary feelings through their tracks, the Serpent’s have crafted an album where the arrangement of each tune compels the listener to picture vivid environments through an entirely auditory experience.
The self-described “Avant-prog/Neo-folk/Noise rock” group is about as difficult to pin down as their own labels appear to be. Headed by Vishal Singh, the maestro behind “Amogh Symphony”, the group has no single style that rings familiar through the album. Using a digeridoo and tongue drum in the opening track “Invocation”, they set off the album with a trance inducing hypnotic composition. As the dreamy hymn fades away, the frenzy that is “Headhunters” begins without warning. The feeling of the album is perhaps best captured here as this single song transitions relentlessly. Beginning with an irresistibly groovy bassline and drum section, the song shifts gear into a more melodic and spiritual feel during the midsection before concluding with an almost metalcore-esque assault on the senses. At no point in the listening experience are you allowed to drift away as the Serpents force you to pay attention by weaving the tranquil alongside the maniacal.
The band derives its name from a deity in Manipuri mythology, the supreme Pakhangba god. Within the third track, the influence of this culture reveals itself in Jade’s decision to sing entirely in Metei. “I.M.A”, which means mother in Metei, is an ode to the mother goddesses of Manipuri tradition as well as every mother fighting for their children. The haunting feeling of the digeridoo and Fidel Murillo’s unique percussion is only amplified by Tamara Mayela’s subtle violin in this piece. While it may not best express the feeling of the album in totality, it stands out as the most powerful and palatable track. To an average listener who might be averse to the more noise-rock elements of the album, “I.M.A” will undoubtedly pique your attention.
In both “Mountain Spirits” and “The Forest Belongs to the Maibi”, the four pieced outfit seem to capture an overbearing sense of fear through two contrasting styles. The former is deliberately unsettling, best characterized through Jade’s spoken word performance that can only be described as harrowing. Although the track does also feature a head bang worthy riff and a slick guitar solo from Singh, it is anything but an ordinary listen. The “Maibi” in the latter track references a community of Manipuri women who have chosen to disassociate with the material world in order to entirely devote themselves to God. Perhaps written as an ode to this community, the song starts with an eerie array of disjointed sounds and voices that convulse into a grating howl before mellowing down to a transcendent closure.
The final tracks follow the general trend set by their predecessors. With a track name like “Thus Sings the Midwife of Planetary Transformation” that clocks in at over eleven minutes long, its clear that the Serpent’s are trying to create music that is meant to provoke a listener beyond just instant and accessible aural pleasure. The album is a smorgasbord of different tones that are immaculately realized by a medley of instruments, differing vocal approaches, and an emphasis on transience in each track. Each individual song demands your attention to explore the subtle sonic intricacies within them. It may not be the most accessible of albums, but for anyone who has an inkling towards a more experimental approach, Vishal Singh’s new venture is not to miss. Far from an easy listening experience, “Serpents of Pakhangba” is a rollercoaster where each turn, drop, and rise, is as unexpected and as refreshing as the last one.