As often as black metal artists are explicitly influenced by nature, these environs are too often limited to boreal forests and snowy landscapes. There’s quite literally a whole planet’s worth of unique biomes to draw from, if only the time and effort is put into crafting suitable black metal for a given environment. Taking inspiration from the barren and beautiful high desert of the American southwest, sole instrumentalist Galen Baudhuin presents in Aridus a suitably bleak yet riff-filled debut with Serpent Moon.
Living a relatively short drive away from the SoCal high desert myself, I’ve been on a quest the past few years for desert-themed metal that doesn’t fall into the typical doom/stoner category typically associated with this landscape. Aside from Wayfarer there doesn’t seem to be much out there, so needless to say my interest was piqued when I saw Aridus self-described as “high desert black metal.” So how exactly does Serpent Moon evoke the desolation of the desert? Trem-picked, blast beat-driven mesas give way to slow, doomy canyons and acoustic guitar plains, before a dust devil suddenly hits in the form of a blistering guitar solo. Aridus’ riffing could best be described as drifting between that of the classic 2nd-wave and more modern dissonance, and this proves to be a potent combination for the thematic material.
Serpent Moon is a “dry” album, but certainly not in the sense that it’s tedious or boring; the sonic landscape here is just completely devoid of any lushness present in certain forms of atmospheric black metal nowadays, giving the impression that the music could evaporate at any moment, along with Baudhuin’s utterly parched vocals. As much atmosphere as there is on this album, the focus here is ultimately on the riffs — just listen to the chugging on “Spectre of Despair,” and I dare you not to have that expression develop on your face. In terms of the rhythm department Serpent Moon isn’t devoid of blast beats by any means, but Baudhuin also knows when their appearance is most effective — there’s a healthy dose of more tribalistic drumming during a number of slower transition segments on the album (as well as on ambient closer “The Infinite Corridor”), and these enhance the atmosphere while giving the band more of an identity.
Would everyone necessarily associate Serpent Moon with the high desert if it wasn’t self-labeled as such? Perhaps not, but as metal artists attempt to branch out into uncharted territory, I’m supportive of taking some liberty with aesthetic goals. If the desolate music here isn’t enough to convince you, perhaps the field recordings of crows, yipping coyotes, thunderstorms, and wind will. Either way I hope to see this beautiful ecosystem get more recognition in black metal, and with this debut Aridus has already hit the ground running.
Serpent Moon will be available May 5 through Eisenwald. For more information on Aridus, check out their Instagram page.