This ought to be a lucky thirteenth album for Finland's black metal maestros, Impaled Nazarene, and I can't complain about how old school this sounds, but I find myself struggling a little with it. Usually, I'd be totally into something as retro as this, which takes us back to the proto-extreme metal of Bathory and Venom, but with Discharge as a third influence rather than the usual Celtic Frost (though there's an obvious Tom G. Warrior death grunt in Debauchery and Decay), and I won't say that I didn't enjoy this, because I did, but I enjoyed it more as an overall effect than as a set of songs. I kept turning the album up louder and louder and letting its relentless onslaught clean me out.
If I ignore the final track for now, there are a dozen songs here that strut rudely onto stage, do their thing with an obvious middle finger and then stalk back into the wings, in only twenty-seven minutes. Only two of them make it past three minutes and then only just. Human Cesspool wraps up in under a minute and four others fail to reach two. They're all very consistent in approach, enough that the first three take a few listens to distinguish themselves, other than the odd intro to Goat of Mendes, which I assume has to be a sample from a Nollywood religious horror movie.
The Nonconformists only changes things up in the sense that it underlines the punk influences, power chords taking over from fast riffing, as otherwise it has much the same effect. How much you'll enjoy this album may well come down to what you feel about variety, because there really isn't any here to be found and I don't know whether you, yes you, care about that or not. If you're into the punky proto-black metal sound that Impaled Nazarene have moved into, then you'll love this. I can only imagine it live, because the pit ought to be utterly alive. The band don't slow down to let us take a breath. They just kick in at high speed and stay there until we're either exhausted or revitalised.
In this, Eight Headed Serpent reminds me of the latest Cannibal Corpse album. I gave that a 7/10, as it did exactly what the band do best in a way that their fans would love. However, I couldn't avoid saying that it did absolutely nothing else. Every song was fast and technical and kicked our asses. The end. If I recall correctly, I listened to that album three or four times and still couldn't tell any of its songs from any of its other songs. This plays in a different extreme style and I could tell these songs apart, but the overall result isn't that different.
Now, I dig this style a bit more than I do that of Cannibal Corpse, so I'm far more likely to come back to this album than Violence Unimagined, but I'd have trouble picking out one song to, say, program into a radio show playlist. Maybe The Noncomformists is a little looser. Maybe Debauchery and Decay is a bit more over the top. Maybe Unholy Necromancy is both the most repetitive and the song with the most interesting range of vocals, from guttural grindcore to demon chorus. But I'd do just as well throwing a dart at the back cover and checking which song it skewered.
And, with the first dozen songs covered, then there's Foucault Pendulum to wrap up the album with a completely different approach. This one's five minutes long, so a true epic for Eight Headed Serpent, over double the length of two thirds of the other songs. It's also as slow as the rest are fast, taking an unlikely sidestep into doom metal, albeit without changing the vocal style at all. It comes utterly out of nowhere and I rather like it, with its cavernous power chords and playful bass fills, but it seems like it crept in from a different album during a strange studio mix-up.
It has to be a deliberate attempt at contrast, like Nick Cave writing nine songs about murder and then adding a cover of Bob Dylan's Death is Not the End to wrap them up. I can't see a reason for it, but it's a clear demonstration that a band that does almost exactly the same thing over and over for a dozen songs can do something different. Maybe that's all it is, an artistic statement to say, yeah, everything here is almost indistinguishable but that's only because we want it to be. And here's the exception to prove the rule.