Throwback Thursday: TRANSCENDING BIZARRE?'s The Serpent's Manifolds is One of Black Metal's Overlooked Oddities
Welcome back to Throwback Thursday! This is the place where we get to indulge in nostalgia and wax poetic about excellent metal of years past. I’m filling in for Lauryn Mercer this week and using the opportunity to reminisce about Transcending Bizarre?, of black metal’s most peculiar and criminally overlook bands.
Transcending Bizarre? was one of the many random bands I chanced upon when scouring the web for the most needlessly underground metal bands possibly back in my teenage years. The street cred clearly mattered. I can’t recall exactly where I found the band—these guys are obscure even by metal’s ridiculous standards—but I’m certainly glad that I did.
To this day, I’ve been hard pressed to find a band that matches Transcending Bizarre?’s fantastic mix of to-the-point extreme metal aggression and kooky avant-garde strangeness, and many of the songs on The Serpent’s Manifolds, the Greek collective’s sophomore record and the focus of our 41st TBT, are just as enthralling now as they were a decade ago.
TRANSCENDING BIZARRE?'S THE SERPENT'S MANIFOLDS
Release Date: March 2008
Record Label: Dissonart Productions
For those that haven’t heard of the band, I understand if that introduction raises more than a few glaring red flags. For one, the band’s name is unabashedly ludicrous, and describing most any music as “avant-garde” is bound to conjure thoughts of pretentiousness and all the wrong kinds of absurdity.
It’s a testament to Transcending Bizarre?’s considerable songwriting chops that those concerns are largely unwarranted. Despite what their name might suggest, Transcending Bizarre?’s succeeded because of their ability to layers ample quirkiness over their deceptively accessible black metal core without sounding excessively outlandish or overstuffed.
This is perhaps best exemplified in “Irreversible” and The Serpent’s Manifold’s title track, which are the record’s most straightforward songs. While hardly rote, both songs boast easily digestible song structures and breezy pacing, but are supplemented by just enough unusual nuances to stand head and shoulders above most other “experimental” metal music.
However, none of this comes across as overbearing: They both feature samplings that make the music sound more like an auditory roller coaster than mere metal songs, while their particularly animated vocals, which include some great cleans in the latter track, prove that the band’s strangeness is anything but a disguise for a lack of actual musical talent.
Of course, those that exclusively listen to raw, kvlt black metal will abhor this, but for more open-minded individuals, it’s hard to imagine that there’s not at least one or two songs here that are easy sells. The Serpent’s Manifolds is extremely accessible by black metal standards and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a good chunk of the album to genre newcomers.
Much of this kind of black metal tends to be grandiose, 10-plus minute epics or concept albums that only really work when listened to from start to finish. With a few minor exceptions, this isn’t the case with Transcending Bizarre? Most of The Serpent’s Manifolds songs hover roughly around the four-minute mark, and while the music is certainly good enough to keep the listener’s attention for the record’s entirety, you never feel like you’re missing out on some crucial element by simply spinning a standout song or two.
Speaking of standouts, I’d be remiss if I didn’t wax poetic about “Dimension Hell,” the record’s best song and one of my all-time favorite metal pieces. The track’s first minute twists and turns from ethereal ambience to pummeling instrumental and back again, before positively erupting with a jarringly evil screech that gives way to vocal lines that repeatedly spew out the song name with all sorts of frothy wickedness. Those first few voiced passages are truly among the most badass things I’ve ever heard in metal music, and while that’s not exactly an eloquent descriptor, it’s a thoroughly fitting one nonetheless.
While The Serpent’s Manifolds is a genuinely unique record, it’s admittedly not a perfect one. I usually end up on a Transcending Bizarre? kick every few months, but I find myself skipping over a few of the sophomore album’s zanier tracks, specifically “The Music of the Spheres,” “The Navelless One” and “Infinite,” the record’s final three songs.
Though “The Music of the Spheres” at least has some pretty enjoyable clean vocals in its midsection, both it and “The Navelless One’s” instrumental sections lack the bursts of creativity or metallic force that elevates the rest of the record. “Infinite,” which is unfortunately the record’s longest track, has far too much dead space in its sprawling 9-minute length, and while its outro is admittedly pretty epic, there’s just not enough here to justify the journey.
Still, the few album discussions I managed to unearth online suggest that “Infinite” is one of the fan-favorites, so perhaps my opinion is the minority one. And though skipping over three songs that constitute a not-insignificant portion of the record’s runtime is hardly a minor issue, I think it says much about how fantastic the rest of The Serpent’s Manifolds is that the rest of the record still sounds so fresh after all these years.
Although I might be lukewarm about some of The Serpent’s Manifolds’ most structurally ambitious moments, Transcending Bizarre? is absolutely capable of leaning on their stranger moments to great effect. “Cell” might be pretty thin on cutthroat metal material, but its atmosphere-heavy sound and moments of practically symphonic bombast are thoroughly gripping and cause the song’s six-minute duration to zip by.
The Serpent’s Manifolds is Transcending Bizarre?’s most restrained and consistent record, but I wholly encourage adventurous listeners to seek out The Four Scissors and The Misanthrope’s Fable, the band’s other two albums. There’s more than a few excellent tracks on those records that are just as good as the aforementioned standout songs, such as "Descarte’s Wrath," which has an awesome guitar solo and some staggeringly batshit vocals. But I’m getting ahead of myself, and that’s perhaps a topic for another day.
Unfortunately, Transcending Bizarre?’s future is looking fairly nonexistent: The band disbanded in 2010 after the death of co-founder S.A. Akis, with the surviving members choosing to create a new musical project. Their current band, Hail Spirit Noir, is something of a spiritual successor to Transcending Bizarre?, albeit with a more progressive rock-influenced style. I reached out to Haris, the keyboardist for both bands, earlier this week to discuss his fondest Transcending Bizarre? memory and the possibility of a reunion. Here’s what he had to say:
We actually have no plans in the future for Transcending Bizarre?, we don't think we'll ever bring them back to be honest. The band had no site or any other official account to announce the split up actually. After co-founder of the band S.A. Akis died of a heart failure in 2010, we decided to move on to a different project.
We didn’t want to go on without Akis and at that time our vision about our music was shifting away from symphonic black metal. So, we started Hail Spirit Noir and we are actually exactly the same members excluding of course S.A. Akis.
The best memory I have from T.B.? goes back to 2000.We had just recorded our first demo and we sent it to the biggest metal magazine at that time, Metal Hammer. There was a board consisting of members from Septicflesh, Rotting Christ and Nightfall that would choose and review the best Greek demo each month. We were teenagers back then, so you can imagine how we felt when we were chosen from these guys as the best demo of the month. Our idols like our music!! We were the happiest people in the world…
I don't know if the band reached lots of listeners and I really don’t know how things would turn up if Akis didn’t die, but in any case we enjoyed the ride a lot.
That’s a shame, but while Transcending Bizarre? might not have received the kind of attention they deserved during their decade-long run, Hail Spirit Noir has been busy touring and recording for years now and the band has garnered a respectable and enthusiastic following.
We’re probably never going to get to hear anything on The Serpent’s Manifolds live again—if it’s any consolation, a cursory YouTube search revealed a whopping two concert videos—but that’s no reason to avoid digging into one of black metal’s best-kept secrets.