Urne – Serpent and Spirit (Album Review)

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Watch out, prog-metal aficionados, there’s a new kid in town. The London-based trio Urne have made their intentions loud and clear with their debut album “Serpent & Spirit”, as it’s a competent 8-track exploration of all things metal. Formed in 2016, Urne spent two years formulating their sound, and the first offering from the band came in the form of the 2018 single “Dust Atlas”. For those who had their interests piqued, the wait for more wasn’t too long at all. In the same year, the band’s first EP, “The Mountain of Gold” was released and received an overall positive reception. Three years later, their album “Serpent & Spirit” has been let out into the world.

The universal theme of this 52 minute-long undertaking is an energetic and eclectic combination of various styles of metal. Ultimately, it feels like the band tapped into multiple old-school themes, and found some pretty innovative ways to meld them together to form a consistent feel. Throughout “Serpent & Spirit”, I heard influences from bands such as Black Sabbath, Alice In Chains, Metallica, Mastodon, Terror, and more. What I strongly appreciated is that it isn’t just a direct injection of these influences into the tracks; there is a clear and present identity from Urne that exists in this album.

Urne is a fan of extended performances, with all of the tracks on “Serpent & Spirit” being over 5 minutes long, except one. Four of the tracks are over 8 minutes long, even. The instrumental sections that exist in length through these tracks are mostly an enjoyable listen, especially because you’re invited to sink back into your metal roots and listen out for certain influences and styles from older bands like the ones mentioned above. I must be frank, however, in saying that I found the final instrumental section for “Desolate Heart” to be a tad underwhelming. It potentially could have been made a bit more engaging with the inclusion of vocals, but alas they were left out. The final track, “A Tomb so Frail” is a whopper of a closing track. Despite beginning with a gentle yet macabre serenade on the acoustic guitar, we’re assaulted with arguably some of the heaviest riffs on the album. At times, I could have sworn that some sections wouldn’t be misplaced if put on a Cannibal Corpse or Death album.

Joe Nally’s vocals, both harsh and clean, are simply great. His clean vocal performance in “Moon & Sky” is a highlight for me, and brought me memories of Ozzy Osbourne in his prime. The screams are diverse to the point where I was doing the same thing with his vocals that I was doing with the rest of the album, looking for influences and homages in his sound. I heard hints of early-era Max Cavalera of Sepultura, Jonathan Vigil from The Ghost Inside, and a number of others. At one point in “Serpent & Spirit”, his high scream even reminds me of the demonic highs that ex-vocalist Alex Kohler from Chelsea Grin sliced us with in the “My Damnation” album, especially when he screams “do I need to find what’s on the other side?”

To put it succinctly, Nally’s ability to not only execute these various vocal styles competently, but also find the right time and place to use them in this album is nothing but praiseworthy.

The album was recorded at Foel Studio, and the production is clean and polished. The guitar tones are nice and clear; heavy when they need to be but clean enough to let some interesting and refreshing chord progressions ring out over the mix. The performance of guitarist Angus Neyra is highly commendable. “The Palace of Devils and Wolves” is a great example of the chords that are plucked away and left to float in the sonic sphere that the band created. There are also a handful of solos that are dropped into the album at various points in time, some of them more impressive than others. The solo during “Memorial” is undoubtedly one of my favorites, with the solo towards the middle of “Moon & Sky” being a close contender.

The little interlude lick during “Desolate Heart” is something I recognized in earlier music from Neyra’s and Nally’s other band Chapters. It’s pleasing to me that the band has paid a tribute in this way, acknowledging the band’s roots in their modern approach to the music they’re investing their passion in.

The drums were, the one one component of “Serpent & Spirit” that I couldn’t fully get behind. I have no doubt that Richard Harris is a sublime drummer, and I sincerely believe that he possesses what is required to contribute to a band of this level of technicality and caliber, however I was too often hoping for a bit more personality and variance from him throughout multiple listens. The drum fills from section to section became slightly repetitive, and it felt like a personality was there, but it wanted to be unleashed, it wanted to be let out. There was a moment where I heard the personality seep through in a technical sequence in “Memorial” and I yearned to hear more from Harris in this regard. I think that there is a huge potential for him to infuse more of his musical personality into Urne’s future releases, and I’m hoping that some more variance in his performance will come about as a result.

For a debut album, “Serpent & Spirit” is a massive success. Urne knocked it out of the park with this one, showing the metal world that they have something worthy and entertaining to offer. The tracks are all bursting with colorful ideations that span across a number of metal styles, and the way these styles are stitched together is incredibly natural and seamless. Whilst some instrumental parts are lacking ever so slightly, here and there, as a whole it’s impressive to a point where Urne could be mistaken for a band that has been around for a lot longer than they actually have. The bar has been set for Urne, and they have set it high.

Released On: June 25th, 2021
Released By: Candelight Records
Genre: Progressive / Death Metal

Musicians:

  • Joel Nally / Vocals/Bass
  • Angus Neyra / Guitar
  • Richard Harris / Drums

“Serpent & Spirit” Tracklist:

  1. Serpent & Spirit
  2. The Palace of Devils and Wolves
  3. Memorial
  4. Moon & Sky
  5. Desolate Heart
  6. Envy the Dead
  7. Memorial: Sing me to Rest
  8. A Tomb So Frail

8.0 Great

For lovers of old-school metal, "Serpent & Spirit" is an absolute treat containing various nods and homages to iconic and influential metal artists. Aside from that, Urne have shown in this record that they are adept in the art of combining various styles to create some truly refreshing tracks, all containing their own personalities and musical nuances. There were only a very small number of times I was hoping for something more from the instruments, but as a whole, "Serpent & Spirit" is a thoroughly enjoyable, and highly successful, debut album.

  • Songwriting 8
  • Musicianship 8.5
  • Originality 7.5
  • Production 8
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