Moanhand – Present Serpent (Album Review)

During the winter Moscow, the capital of Russia, would be layered in soft powdered snow giving the historic city a sense of charm and giving you a good excuse to drink vodka. Within its boundaries comes the talents of multi-instrumentalist, Roman Filatov, who recently brought us “Present Serpent” under the moniker, Moanhand. Produced by Igor Butz at Pentagram House Studios and mastered by Collin Jordan (the Bolier Room, Chicago) Roman managed to bring this album out despite many sleepless nights spent working on it.  The album features “The Charmthrower” that was present on his previous EP but not recorded in a studio version.

If you have ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) then the album cover may not be to your liking. The album photo is that of what is likely to be numerous Vipera berus (the common European adder), a relatively venomous snake of Europe, and hints of the auditory path of the album. The rough scaled serpents are seemingly moving around in their sleek manner rubbing scales creating low and gratingly soothing sounds that could lull you or terrify your eardrums. I imagine Indiana Jones wouldn’t appreciate this much. Although they appear to be in a state of relaxation they could be easily be stirred to strike out at any stage should they feel inclined.

“Present Serpent” is a sludge and doom album with hints of metalcore and black metal that flows along with the rhythm of the serpents. Or perhaps he describes it well as “slow hazy metal”. Mostly the songs writhe menacingly along, hissing and showing fangs dripped in venom on occasion but it never felt like you were being tipped over the edge into a new category of urgency. That is until we reach the last song “The Boomerang of Serpents” where he drips the song in the climatic and dramatic and pulls you in with a combo of grinding harsh vocals and pulsing drums. He tried to ensure the “epicism and majesty” of the song shone through.

His vocals were the biggest surprise to me. They convey his impassioned thoughts from the depths of his mind. It’s almost as if the vibrations by the serpents scales rubbing against one another create the sounds we hear as vocals. Perhaps this album tries to get us to see the point of view of a snake that is not cared much for by the world yet still has a heart and feelings.

It feels like there is a lot of raw emotion running through highlighted by the use of various pitches and tones, and the use of grinding vocals. “Endless Embrace” carries this concept along a lot with the use of screaming vocals alongside his clean tones. Admittedly, the emotion is more felt than anything. The majority of his lyrics leave a lot to the interpretation and upon reading them they would need some explanation before entering his realm of understanding.

Many instruments can be hard to build up the sounds. The crashing drums provide a solid base for the album though my understanding is that he didn’t play them but were rather synths and pads. Primarily an electric guitar player he had to borrow a friend acoustic and bass guitar for the album. The track was then laid out with the bass first, a process that took several hours because he is not a bass player usually and many mishaps occurred along the way. Roman has an affinity for Arabic music so when the opportunity to play a darbuka on the album came along he took it and added it to the mix. The documentary <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4McEWDd_kGo>  about the making of the album provides much insight into the process.

Production of the album has been executed with the instruments being heard where needed and some unique in the album to add texture. At the start of “Raw Blessings” we have the serene sounds of the ocean and in “Endless Embrace” we have a familiar tone of lead guitar he used throughout the album but the notes used to give it somewhat of a dissonance that may take time to embrace. At the end of “The Charmthrower” the use of an acoustic guitar still ties in all the aspects of the song he was trying for. This part of the song felt more like if you were to be walking through the underground corridors of a historic castle in Russia lit only by torch flame and you come across a robe-clad elderly figure playing an acoustic guitar before telling you a story of epic proportions.

Whatever the weather might’ve been in Moscow when this album was created it carries the heart of Roman throughout it making the album more real. During lockdown there wasn’t a great deal to do so as a musician he took the opportunity of not wasting away and not getting up to much, but instead, put his musical talents to use.

1. Serpent Soul (a Tale of Angels’ slaughter)
2. The Charmthrower
3. Nightwings
4. Endless Embrace
5. Raw Blessings
6. The Boomerang of Serpents

Moanhand: Facebook

Release Year: 2021
Label: Burning Shine
Category: Album
Country: Russia

Reviewed by Byron Lotz