Serpentine seemed to be on the verge of something big just a few short years ago when this young British quintet burst onto the AOR scene like a breath of fresh air. Two well received albums and subsequent live work with the likes of FM, Crash Diet and Ten saw the band impress in a big way – then fate took a hold.
Firstly front man Matt Black jumped ship, which was followed by beloved Bass player Gareth Vanstone quitting due to illness. Both have now been replaced with Adam Payne on vocals and Owen Crawford on bass. And so begins another chapter in Serpentine’s history.
Matt Blacks departure, as painful as it was, allowed the remaining members to hunt for a new singer with a different style, a different direction. The new songs Serpentine were writing were more hard melodic rock than AOR, and the powerful Adam Payne fitted in exactly.
‘Season Of The Witch’ is the grand opener, a multilayered keyboard intro, with Chris Gould’s guitar straight from the Judas Priest songbook – the rest of Serpentine kick in and then you hear that voice for the first time and it all fits together perfectly. This is an absolutely massive track, in more ways than one; first it introduces us to Serpentine’s new hard melodic rock direction, and also to Payne’s incredible vocal talent. Serpentine have struck gold here, Adam’s voice is just amazing, full of controlled power and passion. This is still Serpentine, just more of everything, turned up to 11. ‘Season Of The Witch’ is a massive statement of intent, and it kicks home, hard.
‘La Tragedienne’ is a great reminder of just how good Serpentine are at writing AOR tracks, and La Tragedienne is no different, an upbeat catchy song with a killer chorus that will have you reaching for the hairbrush.
‘Forever’ opens with a stabbing riff before dropping back as vocals take the lead, segueing into a great verse and even better chorus. Gareth David Noon’s keyboards really shine through on this track making a good track great. Guitarist Chris Gould then picks up the baton and runs with it, delivering one of the best solos on the album.
A hard and fast guitar riffs leads us into ‘The Hardest Fall’, much more of a melodic hard rock track this. A pounding rhythm section towards the last part of the track really gives Chris a base in which to play off, delivering once again the perfect solo to match the song.
The sad emotive guitar playing on the opening bars to ‘Bleed’ gives away this tracks direction – not so much a ballad, more of a lament. Noon provides a beautiful piano accompaniment to a sad and soulful vocal really bringing this song to life, and, as expected by now, Gould turns up to add a beautiful well-crafted solo into the mix.
‘Where Does Your Heart Beat Now’ is a great slab of AOR, something which Serpentine do particular well, a quick paced ballad with a sing a long chorus.
I’m a firm believer that a solo must enhance a song, and not exist because of it. The solo’s in ‘Bleed’ and ‘Where Does Your Heart Beat Now’ not only fit in beautifully, but they add another level to the songs; they are simply exquisite.
A pounding rhythm section powers ‘Bound By The Strings Of Discord’ . Another fast paced rocker, I unfortunately found it very repetitive both lyrically and musically, and despite numerous listens it is still my least favorite song on here. A simple song on a very complex and multilayered album.
Driving force Gareth David Noon’s keyboard playing on this record so far has been sublime. Taking the lead when needed, he underpins all the tracks with swirls and flourishes to great effect, and the interplay between him and Gould here is just incredible.
‘Circle Of Knives’ is the title track, a six minute journey into the new melodic, at times even symphonic direction this new version of Serpentine are taking. A grand sweeping soundscape from the opening keys, a gentle guitar leads the listener through an epic musical landscape. The track has a life off its own and could quite easily have been twelve minutes long.
‘Such A Long Way Down’ heads back into AOR territory opening up with a keyboard run before a blistering guitar solo kicks in. There are lots of keys helping to give the song some depth, while a simple drum beat helps in keep it all together until Gould once again reappears near the end to add a delicious solo.
‘Suicide Days’ is sadly the last track on this reborn Serpentine’s third album, it’s another one of the bands new direction tracks, most noted by Noon’s symphonic opening arrangement, before heading into Melodic rock territory with a crushing guitar riff. The interplay between Adam Payne and Gareth Noon towards the end add’s a nice touch.
Gareth David Noon’s assured and imaginative keyboard work is certainly some of the best he has ever done and puts him at the forefront of melodic rock players. Likewise Christopher Gould has risen to the challenge on this leap forward of an album to deliver guitar playing that is at times unbelievable – I knew he was good, but on this album he is simply outstanding. The pounding rhythm section of new bassist Owen Crawford and drummer Roy Millward are certainly a match as they lay the foundations of these tracks.
Producer Gary Hughes said that he wanted to ‘raise the bar’ for the band with this album. His collaboration with Serpentine recalls his best work with Bob Catley and maybe even excels it. Quite simply this is the best UK melodic rock album in years.
Adam Payne – Vocals
Chris Gould – Lead and Rhythm Guitar
Gareth David Noon – Keyboards
Owen Crawford – Bass Guitar
Roy Millward – Drums
01. Season Of The Witch
02. La Tragedienne
04. The Hardest Fall
06. Where Does Your Heart Beat Now
07. Bound By The Strings Of Discord
08. Circle Of Knives
09. Such A Long Way Down
10. Suicide Days.
Album released on the 24th April on AOR Heaven or can be pre-ordered HERE