By Tate Bengtson
Prior to Nevermore, Warrel Dane cut his chops in Sanctuary. But prior to Sanctuary? Well, there was this band called Serpent’s Knight, of which remarkably little is known…until now. Shadow Kingdom, in conjunction with guitarist Brad Poland, released all of Serpent’s Knight’s material in remastered form. Accompanying the release are liner notes which seek to set the record straight on what actually went down with this, Dane’s formative band.
In addition to the first disc, which offers the Released From The Crypt album (which is the real treasure for collectors due to Dane’s presence) plus bonus tracks, a second disc containing the band’s sophomore outing with replacement vocalist Mark G, 3000 Degrees in the Shade, is also up for grabs.
As the material was recorded on a shoestring budget in the early 80s, the sound quality leaves a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, such should be expected and does not speak to the value of the album. Dane’s voice, laden with vibrato and lacking its later power and intensity, remains stuck in the stratosphere for much of the album. While his performance is acceptable, it is unspectacular. Musically, the band plays typical early 80s heavy metal that is comparable to early Jag Panzer (Serpent’s Knight would have been contemporary with Jag Panzer and likely drew upon a similar set of influences). The band imbues its songwriting with hints of morbidity and the occult that gives its worship of Judas Priest and Accept a Mercyful Fate twist.
Unfortunately, most of the music is a bit too murky to enjoy in and of itself. That said, there are a few highlights. Highlight the first: the uptempo “Trial By Fire,” which is a scorcher that has the band firing on all pistons with a lucidity and clarity rarely heard elsewhere. Highlight the second: “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” which, with its acoustic intro and deliberate marching rhythm, capably demonstrates the band’s more epic side. Highlight the third (and probably of greatest interest), the cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” which Sanctuary would more famously cover five years later on Refuge Denied (1987). While there are more than a few differences, what is surprising is the amount of similarities. Interestingly, Dane actually sounds much closer to Grace Slick on this rendition.
The second disc possesses a better sound quality but the new vocalist sticks to a slightly punky middle register that suffers from awkward cadences and more-awkward attempts to hit the high notes. That aside, the musical skills of the band members developed considerably, which entails riffs that are more pronounced, crisper leads, and tighter control over the rhythms. Nonetheless, this remains mediocre.
Certainly one of the unexpected aspects of this release is just how personal – perhaps too personal – the liner notes are. These notes are the unvarnished recollections of the glory days for a band that never achieved its aspirations. Th bitterness still comes through in visceral fashion. In addition to recounting anecdotes which Dane probably would have preferred were not shared, there is more than a little frustration expressed over the way in which his next band, Sanctuary, borrowed some of Serpent’s Knight’s ideas. It is ironic that this release by Serpent’s Knight is mainly going to be sold to fans curious about Dane’s early years based on his later accomplishments, but such is life.
Despite the fact that Serpent’s Knight seemed to be on track to go places, the potential of its music had not yet been fully realized. This release testifies to that fact. It is a primordial seed that never germinated. Ultimately, it is for this reason that Silent Knight will remain a historical artifact rather than a treasure trove of long-obscured greatness. It is a valuable addition to the historical record, but little more.