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cover-deicide04The deterioriation that surfaced on “Once Upon the Cross” is allowed to fester on “Serpents Of the Light”. It is but a whitewash of the preceding “Once Upon the Cross”. Indifferent and uninterested in bettering themselves Deicide persevered with its simplified formula. Even though slightly more eerie melodies are sprinkled through out none of comes even within the proximity of what the band did on the seminal “Legion”. “Serpents Of the Light” is famous for no other reason than that it marked the beginning of Deicide’s darkest era. Soon the band would be consumed by interpersonal conflict resulting in a string of forgettable albums.

Described by the band at the time as a record about the flaws of modern Christianity. On "Serpents Of the Light" Benton identifies the hypocrisies and problems of organized religion, but fails to make a compelling and lasting argument against them. From “Serpents Of the Light” onward the lyrics almost exclusively focused on Benton’s hatred for organized religion, especially Christianity, and its many institutional hypocrisies. Growing increasingly more confrontational, direct and hostile the few subtleties and nuances of “Once Upon the Cross” were abandoned.

Allegedly the Benton-Asheim axis wrote the majority of the record. At this point Deicide’s songwriting had become so streamlined, formulaic, and bland that it makes you wonder why they even bothered. According to Benton tutor Ralph Santolla allegedly wrote all of Eric Hoffman’s leads. The whole endeavour exudes a sense of apathy and disinterest from all involved. While still superior to any of its immediate successors “Serpents Of the Light” is vastly inferior to “Once Upon the Cross”, which itself was a step down from this band’s prime material. Instead “Serpents Of the Light” is the sound of a band slowly imploding. Everything is purely functional, methodical to the point of excess – and completely bereft of any lifesblood and inspiration. A compelling experience this record is not.

‘Serpents Of the Light’, ‘Blame It On God’ and 'Creatures Of Habit’ are essentially three iterations of the same song. ‘This Is Hell We’re In’ seems to be almost autobiographical in the way Benton describes the deteriorating personal – and professional relations with those around him. It has one of the better solos of the record, along with the trio of ‘Slave to the Cross’, ‘The Truth Above’ and ‘Father Baker’s’. ‘The Truth Above’ is, uncharacteristically for this band, about the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Everything that made “Once Upon the Cross” the album that it was has been toned down. Benton’s vocals are more intelligible, and there’s a great focus on his lower register vocals and almost complete lack of his characteristic shrieks. The bass playing, much like Benton’s vocals, is non-descript. Where “Once Upon the Cross” at least sounded marginally inspired, everything about “Serpents Of the Light” is formulaic.

Nizin R. Lopez, a fan who had met Deicide at a Fort Lauderdale show, had brought a painting with him and met all the members of the band. The painting depicted a demonic, serpent-like Christ in a thoroughly diseased fashion. Frontman Glen Benton took a liking to Lopez’ work and a few months later that very same painting would be commissioned to serve as artwork for the planned “Serpents Of the Light”. In an interesting turn of events Deicide had adopted the name of Lopez’ original work as album title for its upcoming then-untitled record. Lopez would later paint the cover to the divisive Morbid Angel album “Formulas Fatal to Flesh”, but would curiously remain a low-key artist despite working with two of Tampa's most popular death metal bands released on major labels for the genre.

There’s a case to be made that Deicide, never a band concerned with nuance, or subtlety, received the kind of production befitting of its primal style. Even though the band once again recorded at Morrisound Studio with Scott Burns behind the console the production is decidedly more low-key and down to basics. The guitar tone is crunchier, and there’s a greater bass guitar presence than on the preceding album, but on the whole the production is rougher all around. As one of the earliest instances of unfair budgeting “Serpents Of the Light” lacks the visual and sonoric gloss of “Once Upon the Cross”. It was the last of the Roadrunner era to have the luxury of a band picture, and a promotion campaign worthy of the name.

cover-deicide03Upon the completion of their most accomplished and complete vision Tampa, Florida bruisers Deicide realized they had fulfilled what little potential they had. Realizing that they couldn’t top the unhinged primal ferocity and abstract technical songwriting of “Legion” Deicide scaled down its assault into a more accessible format. Above all else “Once Upon the Cross” is an exercise in simplification, with shorter, punchier songwriting in comparison to the ambitious record that preceded it. That it curiously coincided with the emergence of the populist groove metal sound makes it all the more lamentable. “Once Upon the Cross” was the last hurrah of a once-promising act.

The biggest strike against “Once Upon the Cross” is how much the songwriting objective had shifted from the ambitious heights of the divisive preceding album. The main priority with the songwriting choices for this album were those of stylistic simplification and a greater focus on groove. For a band once praised for its sheer ferociousness “Once Upon the Cross” sounds remarkably controlled and docile. Allegedly the Benton-Asheim axis wrote the majority of the record. According to frontman Glen Benton tutor Ralph Santolla wrote all of Eric Hoffman’s leads. That the album barely reaches the half hour mark isn’t a detriment in itself, but it is a telltale for the band’s imminent deterioration.

The enduring power of “Once Upon the Cross” doesn’t lie so much in the strength of its material, which was much more simplified and streamlined compared to the preceding “Legion”, but in the deceptively clever way said material was arranged. “Once Upon the Cross” is a return to the writing style of its self-titled debut of half a decade before. The main difference lies in the arrangements that are far more fluent and nuanced. The flow of the album is undeniable. The strenght of the writing is derived mostly from the phrasing of the riffs and the way that the drum patterns are laid out in unison with vocals and bass guitar. “Once Upon the Cross” was the most straightforward material the band had written up to that point, and it are the arrangements that give the illusion that it is far better than it actually is.

‘Once Upon the Cross’ is Benton’s interpretation of the Temptation of Christ in the Judaean Desert parable chronicled in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. ‘They Are the Children Of the Underworld’ chronicles the Annunaki, a group of Sumerian deities who dwell on Earth and in the underworld. Their name loosely translates to "those of royal blood," or "heaven and earth." ‘Confessional Rape’ protests molestation and sexual abuse by men of the cloth. Adding a degree of sophistication to Benton’s largely anti-Christian rhetoric both ‘Once Upon the Cross’ and ‘Trick or Betrayed’ open with very brief samples from “The Last Temptation Of Christ”, the Martin Scorcese screen adaptation of “The Last Temptation”, the controversial 1953 historic novel by Nikos Kazantzakis.

The album is custodian to the classics ‘Once Upon the Cross’, ‘When Satan Rules His World’, ‘They Are the Children Of the Underworld’, ‘Behind the Light Thou Shall Rise’ and fan favorite ‘Kill the Christian’. For the only time Deicide was allowed the luxury of a music video. It wouldn’t be until “Scars Of the Crucifix”, nearly a decade later, that the band would have another promo video to support an album in the visual media. Even though “Once Upon the Cross” was a product of obvious simplification, it had lost none of the bite and ferocity whereupon Deicide had built its infamously inconsistent career. Their better days were now well behind them.

Returning to the familiar surroundings of Morrisound Studio with trusted producer Scott Burns at the helm “Once Upon the Cross” is the best sounding album of that era. A level of previously absent smoothness and digital gloss pervades the incredibly bass-centric production. The bass guitar tone is thick and oozy excusing the fact that Benton was never the most gifted of players. Scott Burns’ mix combines organic warmth with the right amount of gloss. “Once Upon the Cross” was mastered by George Marino at Sterling Sound in New York. Steve Asheim here has a drumtone, similar to that of the Morbid Angel album “Domination”, that he wasn’t able to replicate, before or since.

The iconic artwork was airbrushed by English artist Trevor Brown, who famously had seen his proposed artwork for the Cannibal Corpse “Hammer Smashed Face” EP rejected by the band on grounds of being “too realistic” in the medical sense. The album artwork he had rendered for this record was deemed too offensive for retail, and it was censored into its current form.

The intended artwork, in its uncensored form, can thankfully still be found in the booklet. While often described as an autopsy on the body of Christ (due to the presence of certain medical equipment), a closer glance reveals that it actually depicts a disembowelment. The revised artwork was inspired by the Shroud of Turin. The stains on the sheet shatter the illusion of the messiah’s transcendence. He is only human, this Christ figure, mortal and of mere flesh and blood, as his disciples. Due to the uproar over the blasphemous artwork the album managed to land at number 66 in the national British charts.