Release Date: 18th June 2021
Label: Burning Shrine
For Fans Of: Khemmis, Pallbearer, Monolord
Emerging from Moscow, Moanhand is the one-man project of multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Roman Filatov. Not one to pigeonhole himself musically, debut album Present Serpent showcases a blend of monolithic, Monolord-esque riffs alongside Khemmis blackened doom, some symphonic elements, strong progressive tendencies and more.
Opener ‘Serpent Soul (A Tale of Angels’ Slaughter’ crawls into view with distorted feedback followed by a dirge-like riff and sparse, powerful drumming. There’s shades of Pallbearer in its emotionally-charged sung vocal delivery as well as the aforementioned Khemmis when harsh screams come to the fore. Though not as central to Moanhand’s DNA, there’s also a strong progressive influence to be heard. The soundscapes are lush, with Filatov’s plaintive croon crying out over top of the glacially slow, yearning guitar work.
Followup ‘The Charmtower’ features pained screams, occasionally with guttural roars layered underneath. It leans a lot more into the death/doom aspect of Moanhand’s sound; the blackened howls sounding genuinely tortured with the roars being a counterpoint full of rage. The guitar work is again slower than the movement of tectonic plates, creating an oppressive atmosphere. With the slow, deliberate rhythm section and vocals too, it conjures an air of desperation and hopelessness that feels inescapable. The cleanly sung passages lend a yearning, soaring element to proceedings before we’re pulled back under by the harsh vocals.
In contrast to this, ‘Nightwings’ is similar to ‘Serpent Soul’ in that its focus is on emotional heft rather than the instrumentation necessarily and it’s once more reminiscent of bands such as Pallbearer and a perhaps less gothic Paradise Lost in parts. On the flip side of this we have ‘Endless Embrace’, opening with a furious howl atop a gargantuan, crawling riff. It’s a furious, genuinely uncomfortable opening with its raw screech of emotion.
‘Raw Blessings’ deserves a mention as it takes an altogether different tack in its opening; gentle sounds of the sea aim to create a false sense of peace before the gloom once more returns. A slow-burner at a hair over eight minutes, it’s an expansive dirge with an emotional gut punch.
The highlight of the album, however, has to be closing track ‘The Boomerang of Serpents’. It touches on a multitude of genres – including a blastbeat-laden, black metal midpoint complete with tremolo riffs and frostbitten shrieks without ever feeling overstuffed or collapsing under its own ambition. Not only that, it blends the emotional weight of previous numbers with guitar work heavier than the shifting of tectonic plates and even finds room to pack in orchestral elements that then close out the song.
Considering the smattering of EPs that have led up to this debut, it’s clear that Filatov has taken their time crafting and honing their sound for Present Serpent. It pays off in a big way, too; one of the biggest pitfalls with doom is that songs can easily blend into one another with the glacial pace but this doesn’t happen here. Songs have distinct identities and the pacing and arrangement of the album means that it’s not bogged down by its own vast scope. Filatov’s vocals are of particular note, with an emotional, yearning croon as well as devastating shrieks and roars complementing their considerable songwriting chops. For a debut, this is remarkably well formed and a must-listen for fans of more experimental, sometimes shoegaze-y, doom.
Recommend Tracks: Serpent Soul, Endless Embrace, The Boomerang of Serpents