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The 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.

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In the two years of touring and writing that Six Feet Under busied themselves with after the release of “Haunted”, you’d imagine that somewhere down the road they would assess their strengths and weaknesses. The second album, like a third recording, is the time when a band needs to prove itself as an entity worthy of continued praise and support. With the financial and promotional aide of Metal Blade Records to hold down the fort Six Feet Under did indeed have the support angle in their favor, the praise not so much. “Haunted”, despite its actual good sales numbers, wasn’t the thing people bragged about liking, other than in that jokingly, not-so-serious manner as in: “it isn’t that bad!” So, when “Warpath” was announced all eyes were on Chris Barnes and company to deliver their ultimate statement, the record to prove that Six Feet Under was a genuine band that could stand on its own two feet. Was this the case? Well, no. Not really.

The air sirens that introduce ‘War Is Coming’ at least attempt to inject some life into this Obituary retread. A retread is precisely what this sorry waste of time and resources is. “Haunted”, for all its work-in-progress faults and shortcomings, was excusable in the sense that it was a one-off side-project, and not a very serious one at that. “Warpath” on the other hand was the result of a two years gestation period, where the band had time to test their new and old material in the live arena. “Warpath” largely follows the same template as its predecessor, but there are a few notable differences.  I wouldn’t call these differences improvements, but at least there are differences, superficial as they might be.

tumblr_np1awlljTZ1u2hlzto1_500Barnes’ growl vocals start their deterioration with this album. There are instances of spoken passages and an increase of his shrieks. I know not what happened to Barnes in between “Haunted” and this session, but it is safe to assume that the rabid consumption of ganja had shredded most of his vocal range, as limited as it was. Barnes here sounds more throaty, exhausted and downright poor in parts. West still pillages the Obituary well for all its worth, and there’s an almost punk/hardcore immediacy to a good deal of these cuts. The material is rapidly losing whatever little death metal edge was present and is fully going into that maligned stomping and stuttering dudebro groove metal territory that is widely despised for reasons I will not expand on here. Greg Gall is his usual boring and uncreative self, going into full hard rock drumming mode. Terry Butler is content to follow whatever one-dimensional riff West gives him, and despite being solely responsible for the rumbling low-end and overall heaviness quota, his playing is underachieving in the most vile way imaginable. Why these untalented folks again?

Another important thing to note is that Six Feet Under’s love for cover versions comes into full swing with “Warpath”. For this session the band chug and growl their way through Holocaust track ‘Death Or Glory’. Apparently this must have been some kind of resounding success because based upon the presence of cover tracks on this album and the one to follow, Metal Blade and Chris Barnes decided to make a cotton industry out of that. The results? The absolutely appalling and widely panned “Graveyard Classics” sub-brand of releases. Not only do these interpretations add nothing to the originals – why are these songs part of the band’s main releases in the first place? Also, when the cover tracks are the best material present on a band’s record, it is time to take a look inward and re-evaluate whether or not the band’s continued existence is worth all the trouble.

With “Warpath” Chris Barnes branched out lyrically away from the exclusive gore and horror themes, and it is the first Six Feet Under album to include political content. ‘War Is Coming’, ‘A Journey Into Darkness’, ‘Manipulation’ and ‘Caged and Disgraced’ are the political songs, while others dabble in more interpersonal subjects, such ‘Nonexistence’ and ‘As I Die’. A special mention must, of course, go out to the entirely awful ‘4:20’ – the band’s incoherent ode to marijuana and weed. This wasn’t very special given the time in the ‘90s when this album was released. In the mainstream there were several bands proclaiming their love for the leaf, whether they were Cypress Hill or Tom Petty. In the metal underground bands as Exit-13, Murphy’s Law and Cephalic Carnage were talking about pot legalization to its audiences. Six Feet Under cashing in on a trend? How novel.

“Warpath” is, above all else, a testament to ineptitude, stupidity and laziness. There’s no progression here, but regression has its hooks sunk into everything. The songs are zoned out, smoked out regurgitations of already reiterated songs that Obituary wrote a couple of years prior. Barnes’ vocal performance is nothing short of laughable. His grunts are weak and powerless, his clean singing is embarrassing and his shrieks impose fits of laughter. It’s hard to believe that this man led Cannibal Corpse through its classic era. Allen West retreads familiar ground yet again, and doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to differentiate Six Feet Under from his main band. Terry Butler boldly soldiers on in doing what he always has done: doubling the guitar riffs ad infinitum ad absurdum. Greg Gall, the least talented member of this band outside of Chris Barnes, lays down standard rock beats in the most unimaginative and least offensive way possible. These tracks are even simpler in construction and format than the ones that came before. Groove has taken over operations completely, and no amount of posturing is going to change that.

Does this surprise anyone? No. Just take a look at the cover artwork, a term used very loosely within context. It has the, admittedly instantly identifiable, SFU sigil that is superimposed over a daft and uninteresting looking band photo. The band had used excellent movie cover art for their preceding album just two years prior, yet here they are content with a band picture and a band sigil drawn by Barnes? Instead of having actual cover art and using the photography for the booklet, they go for the path of least resistance. Was Brian Slagel too busy counting money and calculating potential profit to care about product presentation? Was he so obsessed with rushing out this product to the fans that even he couldn’t bother to allocate an artist to craft a fitting album cover? Just to illustrate, the lack of standards and attention to detail begins here. A hatchet job on part of all involved, and no amount of media attention was going to mask that.

4 years, two albums and an EP after forming Six Feet Under already reduced themselves to the laughing stock and absolute bottom level of the genre. I might point out that Deicide released the only mediocre “Serpents Of the Light” in the same year as this album, in 1997. That band was at least three years away from their its period of stagnation and creative inertia. Malevolent Creation put out “In Cold Blood” that, despite its savage nature and the presence of one Derek Roddy, was average at best. After this album Allen West would break ranks to join Obituary for “World Demise” and its subsequent world tour. In his stead Six Feet Under would enlist Steve Swanson, guitarist of one-hit wonder Massacre. It’s funny that Six Feet Under opted to enlist Swanson, especially when you consider the fact that he was not in any shape the songwriter or creative force behind Massacre. That always was Rick Rozz. As things stand, “Warpath” is a disappointment and terrible album on all fronts.

After falling so deep, the band could only go up. Whether or not they were able to redeem themselves remained to be seen…