The Dawn of a New Aeon
CoC interviews Luiz Martinez and Erick Diaz of Serpens Aeon
by: Alvin Wee
Simmering in the Mexican underground for half a decade with only a single, underrated demo as testament to their talent, Serpens Aeon has finally arisen on Moribund Records as one of the most impressive newcomers in the death metal underground this year. Spawned out of Luiz Martinez and Erick Diaz's departure from cult formation The Chasm in 1997, Serpens Aeon ditched the progressive leanings of their previous bandmates and indulged in a full-on celebration of old-school death/thrash metal. Listeners familiar with their obscure _Raising the Fire Serpent_ demo will recognize much of the same material on the new album _Dawn of Kouatl_ in a much stronger package. Recalling the glory days of Possessed and Sarcofago while flaunting their updated musical abilities with hints of Dissection and latter-day Immortal, Serpens Aeon has accomplished what countless other "retro" bands have set out to do, but failed miserably at: paying tribute to the gods of old while sculpting an original, inimitable new sound.

Still, breaking away from the "ex-The Chasm" label has proven difficult for the band, especially with the advertising tack taken by Moribund, clearly drawing on the two founding musicians' associations with their previous band. "Yes, [Moribund label manager] Odin is promoting the band and the album that way, which we know is a good marketing approach to promote the album", agrees the bass-wielding vocalist Luiz Martinez readily. "But we are breaking away from that past since we do play a very different style from The Chasm, and we are making a name for our own as well", he adds.

One would assume, given Serpens Aeon's dedication to old-school death metal and The Chasm's slightly avant-garde stance, that musical differences played a crucial role in the birth of Serpens Aeon as a new entity. "Well, we all had that interest for the old school since they are our roots to begin with, and indeed The Chasm had at the time a different direction and another way to approach it", Luiz concurs. "That wasn't the main reason for our decision to take separate ways though. For me, it was more personal than anything else. I was getting more involved with my profession as a tattoo artist and so on."

Nodding, guitarist Erick pipes up enthusiastically. "In my case, it was personal as well; I left The Chasm right after we finished the recordings for _Deathcult for Eternity_. At the same time I had quit film-school, so my life was at the right moment for a change. That's when Luiz called me from Seattle, and invited me to go and visit him, and from there we started playing again! We both had the concept to do a side project besides The Chasm even before we left, but it took a little bit of time to put every piece together."

What took the band so long to put anything official out then? "Moving to the US definitely has to do with us not releasing anything earlier than now", explains Erick. "Plus getting settled and finding the right people wasn't an easy chore either."

Whatever their reasons for parting ways with the Chasm crew, Serpens Aeon have certainly taken a different direction, taking their love-affair with the past to the hilt in both music and concept. _Dawn of Kouatl_ stands as an old-school, thrash metal paean to the ancient Aztecan past, brimming with the imagery of aeons long-forgotten by mankind. With the new breed of death metal bands (read: Nile, Mithras) forsaking the political slant of the early Florida scene for a more historical perspective, one wonders where this sudden obsession with the past originates.

"It's not an obsession with the past at all", counters Erick. "We get that sort of response all the time, but in reality we approach the theme in a very different way. It is clear that the Aztecs have a big part in our music, but also is a part of our life since we [Luiz and Erick] were born in Aztec lands. That is our heritage, so that's just a fact. We do not obsess; the past is completely [different from the way] we live in these days, and we are indeed interested in the contemporary music and themes that surround us. We just choose to live our lives in the way that our ancestors did!"

Even as one struggles to see Serpens Aeon as a wholly original entity with its own agenda, the band's lyrical and musical themes just beg comparison with that other monument of the scene: Nile. I couldn't resist a prod at their very obvious similarities, and the possibility that Serpens Aeon might be construed as followers, rather than originators in the micro-scene that Nile seems to have single-handedly created.

"We are definitely not trying to do what Nile does whatsoever!", insists Erick defiantly. "The way that we approach the Aztec themes in our music and lyrics is mostly a reflection of our everyday life. As I mentioned before, two of the members were born in Aztec lands so it is natural to relate to those roots, rather than try to talk about any other subject. We talk not about Aztec mythology; it is rather how we live our lives with an Aztec approach, how we see our past and how we deal with it in the present and in the future, whereas mythology comprises tales about ancestors, heroes, etc.. Aztecs were ahead of their own time and also had a very wise yet brutal ritualistic calendar, and a knowledge of astrological events, so we try to follow this ancestral path."

The lack of printed lyrics on the CD release only adds to the obscurity and mysticism of the Serpens Aeon concept. I ask Erick to shed a little light on the esoteric worlds conjured up by song-titles like "Nectar", "Under the Fifth Sun" and "Circle of Serpens".

"Serpens Aeon means the era of the Serpent, to put it in a condensed way. It's the sempiternal Way of Wisdom. The serpent was one of the most worshipped figures in the Aztec society, and represented knowledge, wisdom, eternity, etc.. The way we see and live our lives, and the songs we write, are a mirror of how we are in real life. "Nectar" talks about Pulque, a ritualistic alcoholic drink, the Nectar of Gods, but it actually applies to any kind of alcoholic drink used in a magickal way. "Under the Fifth Sun" is about a new beginning for our kind: the 'Cosmic Race'. It can also be interpreted as a Chant of War; from the Aztec point of view, there were four worlds prior to our world, and each world had a representative Sun and its people, and we live "Under the Fifth Sun". With "The Circle of Serpens", we are depicting our brotherhood, the place we come from and our way of thinking."

Taking a step back, I bring up the topic of today's resurgence of death metal in the scene. I wonder, aloud, where Serpens Aeon fits in, given their extreme old-school leanings and the current deluge of sub-par death metal bands flooding the scene. The raw, emotional power of the old scene seems to lacking in many of the newer bands, and it is precisely this atmosphere of primal energy that Serpens Aeon seems to be reviving. Erick nods emphatically, in evident agreement.

"Feeling is what most of the new bands lack; they don't have the kind of recordings the early death/thrash bands used to have. [The old bands] didn't have the budget for big studios, but they did have the guts and that's where that visceral sound comes from. We don't fit into the new explosion of death metal, and we are not trying to be the fastest nor the most evil ones; as I said, above it all comes to the visceral way of playing... and I think we are in the limbo between Old and New."

Is the old-school atmosphere on _Dawn of Kouatl_ a result of production values perhaps? Sound engineer Curran Murphy isn't exactly famous for working with death metal bands...

"Well, before the session we had a meeting with Curran and [producer] Todd, and after we talked and reviewed the details, we felt confident that they both were capable of doing a good job, and they did. The studio itself was amazing; the facilities were top-notch professional, with everything you needed! Besides all the newest technology, they had a nice kitchen, a big yard in the middle of the woods, and a place to sleep and relax... so I think it all reflects in _Dawn of Kouatl_."

In conclusion, I question Erick about the band's musical direction for the future. Serpens Aeon's old-school sensibilities will always appeal to the die-hards in the scene, but aren't they concerned with musical progression and development at all?

"Well, as we said before, Serpens Aeon is right in between the old and new school", explains Erick. "Musical progression is important, but that doesn't mean we are going to change our style -- just look at what happened with Chuck Schuldiner. He started to get more and more technical, until the feeling and energy were gone, and the music thus became plain and flat, with no emotion at all! Even if we are not looking for balance, it always comes naturally to us and it makes our music energetic and powerful."

(article submitted 5/7/2004)


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