Piel de Serpiente - El veneno se extiende 4/5

Reviewed: 1-9-09


1. Muerdeme
2. El huracan
3. Lagrimas sobre el cristal
4. Vuelve a mi
5. Marioneta
6. Victima del tiempo
7. Leyendas del rock
8. Jardin de espinas
9. El juramento
10. Viuda negra
11. No esperes mas
12. El beso del sol
13. Carpe diem

In my crustier, less charitable moments, I've been known to rage against the watering down of the once-proud Spanish metal scene. Dethroned kings Tierra Santa have essentially metamorphosed into a pedestrian hard rock band, albeit one I reluctantly enjoy in spite of myself. Mago de Oz become less "metal" with each successive release, to the point where they're being marketed as "world music" by various Internet music vendors. Avalanch have utterly forsaken their metal roots, and the list goes on and on. Given my dissatisfaction with the systematic defanging of Spanish metal, I approached this sophomore CD from Spain's Piel de Serpiente with no small degree of trepidation. On the one hand, 'El veneno se extiende' was released under the Karthago imprint, ordinarily a reliable hallmark of quality. On the other, I was wary of the "melodic metal" tag and the non-metal cover art.

Genre classifications be damned, 'El veneno se extiende' is (along with Saurom's 'Once romances...') one of the finest metal CDs to emerge from the Iberian Peninsula in 2008. Maybe Piel de Serpiente don't play hammer-down speed metal. Maybe they straddle the line between traditional metal and melodic metal in a way that some might find disconcerting. Maybe their chick drummer (who hits hard and rocks out) will freak some people out. I don't care. 'El veneno se extiende' is top-notch Spanish-language heavy metal, with incredibly catchy and concise songwriting, memorable choruses, emotive and crystal clear Spanish vocals akin to Jose of Mago de Oz, and tasty twin guitar work with a few NWOBHM harmony parts that leave my jaw on the floor. Sounding something like a cross between recent Tierra Santa and Zarpa, or Mago de Oz stripped of their folk elements, or a Spanish Saxon, Piel de Serpiente had me convinced from the opening 1-2 punch of "Muerdeme" and "El huracan" which represent the very best that this type of Spanish metal has to offer. Not every track sustains the quality level of these songs, but gems are sprinkled throughout the tracklist. Track 4, "Vuelve a mi", has such a simple riff and infectious chorus that I found myself enraptured in spite of myself. Track 8, "Jardin de espinas", gets the noggin shaking and may inspire acts of idiocy on the roadway if played on a car stereo (not that I'm speaking from experience, of course). Track 10, "Viuda negra", is catchy for days. "El Beso del sol" will have you singing along at the top of your lungs, smiling broadly, and tapping your toe as you go along. And there's not a single stinker amidst the 13 songs on offer here.

It may be 2009, but I firmly believe there's room in the metal underground for a Spanish act that plays old-fashioned heavy metal from the heart. It may not be technically compelling, breathtakingly speedy or thunderously heavy, but 'El veneno se extiende' is charming, honest and sincere. The guitars have enough bite, the vocals are great, and the songs are superb. It's the kind of CD that makes me feel happy to be alive too. That's good enough for me. But don't worry: I have an image to uphold, and I'll get back on message to slam the neutering of the Spanish heavy metal scene the next time a lightweight Spanish CD lands in my mailbox. Piel de Serpiente get a pass, because they're just so much fun to listen to.




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