No Guesswork Here

Serpentine Path
Photo by Jason Jamal Nakleh

“I knew that if we got together, we could create something really crushing.”

Vocalist Ryan Lipynsky’s description of Serpentine Path brings to mind a seasoned SWAT team, or a crew of master jewel thieves—a unit whose members could operate with their eyes closed. “There’s no real guesswork here,” he says of the quintet’s minimalist approach to extreme doom metal, heard on a commanding new second LP Emanations. “For all of us, this is very easy to do. There’s no ‘How do we make that happen?’ [Guitarist] Tim [Bagshaw] presents an idea, and we’re already working on fine-tuning things.”

Lipynsky isn’t being cocky; he’s simply describing the ease that comes with experience. For the five members of Serpentine Path, doom metal is a way of life; each musician has helped to perfect a specific facet of the genre. Working with U.K. bands like Electric Wizard and Ramesses from the mid-’90s through 2012, Bagshaw—Serpentine Path’s main songwriter—helped pioneer a sinister yet knowingly campy take on the style, built around swirling post–Black Sabbath riffage, and dual fixations on the occult and THC. Fellow guitarist Stephen Flam made his name with Winter, an early-’90s New York band that married doom’s crawling tempos with death metal’s growled vocal style. And for 12 years, until their 2012 break-up, Lipynsky and Serpentine Path’s rhythm section—bassist Jay Newman and drummer Darren Verni—made up NYC’s Unearthly Trance, which contrasted nightmarish doom dirges with coal-black crust punk and noise-worshiping sound collage.

While the members of Unearthly Trance met Bagshaw during a U.K. tour with Electric Wizard in 2002 and grew up as fans of Winter (“[Winter] was always a reference point,” says Lipynsky. “I had their Into Darkness tape before I knew about a lot of other extreme metal”), Serpentine Path wasn’t conceived as a composite of its members’ histories. The band started when Bagshaw visited New Jersey and began jamming with his old friends Lipynsky, Newman and Verni. The British guitarist made a permanent move to the States, and in 2011—when Unearthly Trance was still a going concern—Serpentine Path formed. For Lipynksy, the new venture was a welcome contrast. “There was all this baggage attached to Unearthly Trance, which sometimes happens with a band that’s been together for 12 years,” he explains. ” Serpentine Path was an easy way [for me, Jay and Darren] to continue to work with each other, but not feel pressured or stressed.”

The trick, Lipynsky explains, was to find common ground among the members. “Clearly Tim is much more rooted in the traditional-doom and death/doom thing; that’s what he’s best at,” Lipsynksy says of the impetus behind Serpentine Path. “So what does Tim bring to the table and how can we bring that to the next level?” The answer came quickly, with the band’s self-titled 2012 debut. Serpentine Path wasn’t about synthesis or surprise; it was a statement of unwavering focus, the perfection of a narrowly defined style: Bagshaw’s heaving riffs, Lipynsky’s beastly growl, and Verni’s masterful slow-motion grooves, all expertly captured by bassist-producer Newman.

Emanations doesn’t stray from that blueprint. New member Flam contributed one song, but mostly, this is still Bagshaw’s vision, fleshed out by his seasoned collaborators. At their best, stomping through the swampy groove of album opener “Essence of Heresy” or trudging zombielike on “Disfigured Colossus,” the band functions as a single organic beast. The album features a few passages of textural noise courtesy of Lipynsky, but Emanations doesn’t focus on experimentation or obvious progression; the record is a study in the strategic deployment of riffs, and how, for example, a straightforward jump from half time to double time in closing track “Torment” can feel thrilling, thanks to Serpentine Path’s methodical sense of pacing and atmosphere. Newman’s earthily majestic production, and Lipynsky’s lyrics — more like still lifes than cinematic narratives, portraying a crumbling temple in “House of Worship” or an “extraterrestrial mutant spirit” in “Claws”— perfectly complement the band’s metallic monoliths.

For Lipysnky, Serpentine Path’s uncanny chemistry was preordained. “I knew that if we got together, we could create something really crushing,” he says of the group. Much like Serpentine Path before it, Emanations feels like a benchmark statement. No hook, no twist—just experience channeled into quality. Really crushing, indeed.