[Review] Styx: The Serpent Is Rising (1973)

The band returns to their original confusion with another album of prog and rock that rarely combines the two effectively.

Kronomyth 3.0: Snakes and ladies.

Dennis DeYoung has disavowed The Serpent Is Rising and I’m not about to argue with the man. It’s a step back from their last, Styx II, both in terms of quality and vision. When the best song on an album is about a toilet, you can probably assume the rest of it is crap.

DeYoung has since pointed to lost confidence as the source of Serpent’s failings. There is the sense that Styx is throwing too many ideas at the wall hoping something would stick, a problem that plagued the band from the beginning. And having three songwriters in the group has clearly become a distraction at this stage, with James Young favoring hard rock, DeYoung firmly planted in the prog camp and John Curulweski having wandered far from camp into another band altogether.

The album tries to kick things off into high gear with Witch Wolf, in which James Young makes a concession or two to prog’s grandiose ideas but still ends up writing a hard rock song. The Grove of Eglantine is the best prog number on here, a continuation of the style featured on “Father O.S.A.” Young Man, the closest thing to a single on the album, finds JY doing what he does best, bringing the rock thunder. As Bad As It Is starts with acoustic rock and ends up in the toilet although, honestly, it’s not as bad as it sounds. In fact, the calypso-styled “Don’t sit down on the plexiglass toilet” routine at the end is appreciably clever.

The second side continues to unravel. DeYoung’s Winner Take All is an ill-advised attempt to write something bouncy and ends up ripping off “Getting Better” in the process. Curulweski’s 22 Years belongs on an album by Allman Brothers not Styx. The band’s proggy aspirations rise again on Jonas Psalter and The Serpent Is Rising, both of which are at least ambitious. DeYoung has since complained about the album’s mix, and I would agree that the title track is in sore need of a good remix. The album closes with Curulewski’s weird Krakatoa and, naturally, Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. What a mess.

This and the band’s first album, Styx, are for diehards and prog collectors only. The band labored under poor management, poor advice and poor distribution for years, honing their skills like a late-round draft pick in the bush league. There were flashes of talent for sure, but far too often they swung for the fences and missed. The Serpent Is Rising is a whiff, with the band not getting the hit they sorely needed until “Lady” took off later in the year.

Original elpee version

A1. Witch Wolf (James Young/Ray Brandle) (3:57)
A2. The Grove of Eglantine (Dennis DeYoung) (5:00)
A3. Young Man (James Young/Richard Young) (4:45)
A4. As Bad As This (John Curulewski) (6:10)
B1. Winner Take All (Dennis DeYoung/Chuck Lofrano) (3:10)
B2. 22 Years (John Curulewski) (3:39)
B3. Jonas Psalter (Dennis DeYoung) (4:41)
B4. The Serpent Is Rising (John Curulweski/Chuck Lofrano) (4:56)
B5. Krakatoa (John Curulewski/Paul Beaver/Bernard L. Krause) (1:36)
B6. Hallelujah Chorus (From Handel’s “Messiah”) (George Frideric Handel) (2:14)

The Players

John Curulewski (JC) (guitars—electric, 12-string, acoustic—arp, moog and vocals), Dennis DeYoung (keyboards—organ, pipe organ, piano, arp, moog—and vocals), Chuck Panozzo (bass and vocals), John Panozzo (drums—boom bams, xylophone, steel drum, thuche—and vocals), James Young (JY) (guitar and vocals) with Arnold Goodman and friends (choir on A4), Bill Traut (saxophone on B2). Produced by STYX and Barry Mraz in cooperation with Bill Traut.

The Product

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track in December 1973* in the US (Wooden Nickel, BXL1/BWK1/BWS1-0287) and Canada (RCA Victor/Wooden Nickel, BXL1-0287). Reached #192 on the US charts. (*First appeared in 12/8/73 issue of Billboard.)

  1. Re-packaged as Serpent in 1980 in the US (RCA, AYL1-4111) with different cover.
  2. Re-issued on compact disc on December 16, 1990 in Japan (RCA, BVCP-5040).
  3. Re-packaged with Man of Miracles on 2-for-1 compact disc in 1999 in the US (One Way, OW 35144).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc on July 27, 2016 in Japan (Universal/Wooden Nickel, UICY-77821).
Serpent album cover
RCA AYL1-4111 cover

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