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Styx The Serpent Is Rising album cover
3.01 | 150 ratings | 16 reviews | 7% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Studio Album, released in 1973

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Witch Wolf (3:57)
2. The Grove of Eglantine (5:00)
3. Young Man (4:45)
4. As Bad as This (6:10)
5. Winner Take All (3:10)
6. 22 Years (3:39)
7. Jonas Psalter (4:41)
8. The Serpent Is Rising (4:55)
9. Krakatoa (1:36)
10. Hallelujah Chorus (2:14)

Total Time 40:07

Line-up / Musicians

- James Young / guitar, vocals (1,3,5-7)
- John Curulewski / electric, acoustic & 12-string guitars, ARP & Moog synths, vocals (4,8,9)
- Dennis DeYoung / ARP & Moog synths, organ, pipe organ, piano, vocals (2,6)
- Chuck Panozzo / bass, backing vocals
- John Panozzo / drums, steel drums, xylophone, backing vocals

- Bill Traut / saxophone (6)

Releases information

Artwork: Tim Clark

LP Wooden Nickel Records ‎- BXL1-0287 (1973, US)

CD RCA ‎- 0287-2-R (1988, US) Remastered (?)

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STYX The Serpent Is Rising ratings distribution

(150 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of rock music(7%)
Excellent addition to any rock music collection(24%)
Good, but non-essential (47%)
Collectors/fans only (15%)
Poor. Only for completionists (7%)

STYX The Serpent Is Rising reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
1 stars All early Styx albums sound sloppy and confused to me, this is sometimes laughable and I wonder if this is not the Spinnal Tap of prog rock. Some people say that early styx was more prog than their 75-79 period , and they might not be mistaken , but whatever prog numbers they attempted were simply awful (Common Man on their debut)
Review by Cesar Inca
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Styx's third effort is their most progressive one from the Curulewski-era, and even in terms of pure rock history, this is the band's zenith during the often overlooked Crulewski years. While maintaining their arena rock essence, they manage to assimilate some of the ELP pompous splendour (track 3) and Yes majestic colorfulness (tracks 2 and 7). As in all their early albums, Styx fails to elaborate a completely cohesive repertoire, but IMHO, this repertoire contains a large amount of real inspired tracks and well oiled performances. It is a pity that DeYoung chooses to keep a limited role as a lead singer, since most of his own songs have JY as the lead singer. I actually like JY's powerful singing, but as a matter of fact DeYoung's style and timber are the vocal signature for Styx. 'The Serpent is Rising' kicks off with the ballsy 'Witch Wolf', displaying a Uriah Heep inspired fire with a slight GFR twist. 'The Grove of Eglantine' and 'Jonas Psalter' exhibit a more definite prog edge thanks to the clever use of instrumental passages and vocal harmonies: DeYoung's deeply artsy concerns about his own keyboardist's role (clavinet, organ, Moog, even some mellotron ornaments for good effect) help the band explore their calculated prog tendencies (especially regarding teh construction of soem subtle Renaissance moods occasionally), and the dual guitars deliver riffs and leads in elegant fashion. But, all in all, it's fair to say that the most challenging compositions here are the angst-driven anti-bellicist 'Young Man' and the sombre title track. The former is a lovely rock with obvious sophisticated ambitions, and its fiery finale has got to be one of the most explosive closures in the band's history - it is conveniently built up by the main body that combines typically American hard rock with Emersonian chops. The latter states a clever psychedelic development of the heavier side of vintage symphonic rock: Floydian moods and Yessian ornaments are handled to fit well the overall hard rock scheme. Curulewski really nailed it at covneiving this song: raspy menacing singing, majestic vocal harmonies in the choruses, a gloomy mixture of dark guitar leads displayed on 12-string arpeggios in the interlude, all this and more. I usually listen to these tracks twice or thrice in a row before letting the CD move on toward the closure. On the other side of things, Curulewski and his band mates display their acoustic sensibility in 'As Bad as This', which starts as a gentle ELP-ish ballad and ends as a childish Wings-like tune. A special mention goes to the closing duet: 'Krakatoa' is basically an apocalyptical poem that Curulewski reads ceremoniously above sinsiter synth layers, immediately leading into a Hallelujah choral fanfare accompanied by a loud church organ. If not totally genius, at least an oddly entertaining way to end an album. Generally speaking, "The Serpent Is Rising" will please all those Styx skeptics who happen to enjoy Kansas' first 3 albums and other US prog items such as Mirthrandir or Lift.
Review by ClemofNazareth
3 stars I discovered the Styx back catalog the same way I suspect most other people did – after John Curulewski left the band, Tommy Shaw joined, and the band blew away most of America with ‘Grand Illusion’.

Of the early Wooden Nickel recordings this is generally considered the weakest, but even here there are numerous hints of what was to come. The animated organ passages on “Young Man”; the pretentious but charming “Grove of Eglantine”; and the pompous parody “Hallelujah Chorus” are all raw and early attempts to fashion a big swing into in-your-face entertainment.

The only things remotely approaching prog territory are the organ-laden title track and the teasing and brief “Krakatoa”. These give a little hope for better days for the band ahead.

But there are some turds too, and probably too many of them. The most egregious error came with the faux-reggae disaster “As Bad as This”, which I still am not sure was really meant to be a serious work. Curulewski’s bland anthem “22 Years” is barely more than filler, and “Winner Take All” isn’t any better.

In all this is probably just for collectors. But I wonder if this would have become a bit more respected over time if it hadn’t come from the same guys who gave us so many hundreds of hours of FM listening pleasure in the mid-seventies, and if the band had hailed from some place hard to pronounce instead of from Chicago U.S.A.

Who knows. A decent album, but one that hasn’t aged very gracefully or been remembered in very flattering terms. Three stars for me, probably two for most prog fans, but worth picking up if you are even remotely a Styx fan.


Review by Tom Ozric
5 stars I'll be the first one to admit that Styx aren't truly 'Progressive Rock', but many of their albums find their way into many a Prog-Head's collection. 'The Serpent Is Rising' is my pick of the bunch - I do find the first 4 'Wooden Nickel' releases engaging, but I don't go for their 'Pomp-Rock' albums from 1975 onwards. On this album we have a very loud production, it's quite the heavy-rock album in a lot of ways. 'Witch Wolf' is a dynamic rocker with absolutely thunderous drumming from John Panozzo (complete with double-kick) and an incredibly memorable riff. Their distinct massed vocals already intact at this early stage (not my favourite facet of the band, but they are done really well here). 'The Grove of Eglantine' is typically 'prog' sounding with a gorgeous Harpsichord intro, crunching rhythm and heavy guitars, the verses are sung by Dennis DeYoung (with his classic A.O.R. voice) and harmonies from the band on the choruses. There is a delightful middle section which shows off DeYoung's classical training, and we even get a dash of Mellotron. The song reverts back to its main themes and fades. I'm sure bassist Chuck Panozzo is playing a Rickenbacker - a popular bass amongst Prog musicians. 'Young Man' starts off with acoustic guitar strums and JY's voice and quickly explodes with some loud bursts of 'Young Man' along with some mighty guitar chords, some subtleness with a short Bass Guitar and Flute Mellotron melody and the song is off and away. DeYoung's Hammond solo is full of life, and the 'tron appears again with a quiet verse, giving way to a heavy tri-tone riff with odd-time sigs backed with some bubbling synths and intense organ notes. 'As Bad As This' is a soft acoustic ballad, sung by John Curulewski, and has a lovely Mellotron passage halfway through. Side 1 of the LP finishes off with a throwaway ditty referred to as 'Plexiglass Toilet' (though it's not listed on the LP cover) - thankfully this semi-amusing salsa-cum-Jamaican slop only lasts under 2 minutes. Innocent fun for a few moments, I guess. The first 2 songs on the 2nd side are common pub-rockers and don't hold the attention for us, demanding listeners - '22 Years' being the better of the 2, though. 'Jonas Psalter' is again a proggy track with scorching guitars and great progressions. More majestic Mellotron bursts finish the song off in a grand way. One of the best songs that guitarist James Young has ever sung. The title track is a super-sonic invention, full of swirling synthesisers and grinding organ, a somewhat plodding rhythm, Curulewski belting out his lines with soaring harmonies. 'Krakatoa' is a tone-poem credited to Curulewski along with electronic whizzes Beaver and Krause. It segues into a Pipe-Organ version of the 'Hallelujah Chorus' with vocals from everyone. As I mentioned, I do enjoy early Styx in all their directionless enthusiasm, and rate this one with 4.5, but rounding it to a 5 as it is their most impressive effort according to my tastes.
Review by SouthSideoftheSky
2 stars Nothing is as bad as As Bad As This

After the, in my opinion quite strong, second album, Styx came up with this mixed effort for their third. It opens very strongly with three good songs in Witch Wolf, The Grove Of Eglantine and Young Man. It is clear already here that The Serpent Is Rising is more towards Hard Rock than previous albums. Both the guitars and the keyboards have a much heavier sound compared to that of Styx II. Young Man follows and is another good song with a very nice, surprisingly 'meaty' organ solo. Not quite Deep Purple or Uriah Heep territory, but mentioning these bands might still give you some idea!

As Bad As This follows and brings the album down. A lot! The extremely silly attempt at humour in the middle of this otherwise respectable acoustic song is so awful and out of place that nothing can redeem them from this musical atrocity. I really have a hard time understanding the motivation behind the inclusion of this. I'm sure it will please very young children, but no others will like it!

The album does not get back on track again until the very good title track after some rather uninspired Rock 'N' Roll numbers that reverts to the middle-of-the-road style of the debut album. The title track is once again in the heavier style of the appealing opening trio.

I own this album as part of a 2CD set called The Complete Wooden Nickel Recordings comprising the band's first four albums. When I listen to the second disc (which is cleverly called Tails while the first disc is called Heads) holding the original albums The Serpent Is Rising and Man Of Miracles, I always feel that if they had only made a single album out of the best songs from these two albums they could have made a really good one. Keeping the very good songs Witch Wolf, The Grove Of Eglantine, Young Man and The Serpent Is Rising from this album and putting them together with the best songs from Man Of Miracles. These two albums have the same sound and both of them have some good material and sadly some quite awful material.

The Complete Wooden Nickel Recordings is the recommended way to acquire these albums. As it stands however, the original The Serpent Is Rising album is worthy of only two stars.

Review by Finnforest
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The early proggy one

After the DeYoung dominated second album flopped as badly as their first, Dennis began to suffer some self-doubt as a writer. Likely for this reason, the unpredictable John Curulewski took the reins in the creation of Styx's weirdest, least celebrated album. The result was the album Dennis DeYoung calls their worst, but in reality is the least Styx-like album and a truly interesting hard-prog album with plenty of surprises. Serpent is filled with hard rock, blues, baroque pop, Zappa-esque humor, sexual lyrical references, electronic music, and classical interludes. It's so bizarre and unrestrained that it actually works pretty well if you like heavy but loose prog albums and you have a sense of humor. The fact that Dennis DeYoung hates it should be enough to pique the interest of latter day Styx haters. The album's production is an issue for some and it was another commercial failure, but the album's heavy rock meets hallucinogenic ride makes it an interesting listen to me, quite enjoyable. Curulewski and his camp in the band were experimenting heavily with hallucinogenics in this period, according to some, and his desire to be weird was now creating palpable friction with DeYoung. Serpent is really John Curulewski's most defiant statement and the beginning of the end for him in Styx.

It's a shame Serpent has such a horrible reputation because it really is a fun record and a favorite of mine from the Wooden Nickel era. The title track, Young Man, Witch Wolf, and 22 Years provide the typical James Young/John Curulewski blazing rock, with some awesome heavy riffing on Serpent. DeYoung has one winner with "The Grove of Eglantine" which features a harpsichord and has something of a medieval feel, with a nice saucy chorus. "As Bad As This" is a slow acoustic blues bit with a secret ending, as JC delivers the Zappa inspired "Plexiglass Toilet" song, a sing along about wiping your butt performed by the wives, girlfriends, and friends of the band. It's a bit silly but lends the album personality in my opinion, something too many people forget about in these days of perfectly produced musical product. Rock albums used to be fun, remember? The album ends with a bang called "Krakatoa", JC's electronic mind-frak which sampled the same sound effect pattern George Lucas later used for his THX theater demonstrations. This leads into Handel's Messiah chorus, naturally, as the perfect bow atop Styx's long derided bastard child. Lots of chances taken on this album, the results are not always pretty but they do provide the wildest ride of the Styx catalog.

"I am confused, why is this getting such a bad rap here? I have heard 1000 x worse albums. I don't really know anything about Styx (they were never big here in the UK) so I guess I'm missing some kind of prejudice that some people must have developed. "Young Man" rocks like hell, the production is great and the music is tight and varied. There are times when a little knowing pomp and ridiculousness is welcome if it's done well, like on this album." -r0b0c0p, RYM

Not to be missed. Grab some beers or whatever you enjoy, head to the garage, and hear the album Dennis would sack if he could time travel. 3 stars.

Review by stefro
2 stars Considered a career nadir by various members of the group, 'The Serpent Is Rising' seems to have had a rough deal over the years, not only from it's creators but also from both fans and critics alike. But it is easy to see why. Styx's third album for the Chicago-based Wooden Nickel label that nurtured them through their formative years, and their third overall, 'The Serpent Is Rising' should have seen the five-man outfit continue their rapid development, the album following on from the group's affable-but-ordinary self-titled debut and it's excellent 1973 follow-up 'Styx II'. Yet it wasn't to be. Still mining a distinctively eclectic sonic pathway made up of pacey blues-rock, prog-rock ambition and emotive pop balladry, Styx's sound is never less than colourful, yet they have never been a fully fledged progressive outfit, which may explain why this, their most progressively-inclined album so far, failed to match the reckless creativity of it's predecessor. With guitarist John Curulewski and vocalist Dennis DeYoung taking charge, 'The Serpent Is Rising' certainly doesn't lack ambition. What it does lack, however, are the memorable melodies and energetic ambition that served up such great tracks as 'Lady' and 'A Day', the two outstanding numbers from 'Styx II'. Instead, we have the rather weird 'Witch Wolf', the crudely-stitched pop-rock of 'Young Man' and the downright bizarre instrumental filler of Curulewski's 'Krakatoa'. Disappointing.


Review by FragileKings
3 stars 'The Serpent Is Rising' was the second Styx album I ever bought and it has been in my possession for just barely over a year. After 'The Grand Illusion', I could have picked any of the more highly rated classic albums, but I really didn't know much about the band and wasn't sure where to go next. When I saw the SHCD of 'Serpent' on Amazon was limited to one copy remaining, I hastened to snatch it up. Only after did I learn that not only is it one of the band's least successful and least popular albums but even the band themselves have expressed their dislike of it. Is it really so bad?

Admittedly, after the first three or four listens, the only track that stayed affixed to my memory was the hidden track, 'Plexiglass Toilet'. The silly 'Banana Boat' spoof was catchy and humorous. Yet many critics regard that song as the lowest point of Styx's career.

Recently, I have been adding to my Styx collection and I decided to pay a close ear to the often derided third Styx album. As I have become more familiar with the band's seventies output, I know that the music of Styx is based on the triad of hard rock, prog, and catchy chorus melodies with harmony vocals. With three songwriters and three lead vocalists, I feel there are some similarities between Styx and Queen, though with organ and synthesizer instead of piano, Styx's music sounds more like a cousin to Uriah Heep and Yes.

The opening track, 'Witch Wolf' has turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable rocker. In league with post- fantasy era Uriah Heep, this track packs a real punch. Similar is 'Young Man', the third track. Both songs are co-written and sung by guitarist James Young, who is frequently referred to as a hard rock guitarist in the Wikipedia pages about Styx and their albums. He takes lead vocals on two tracks on side two as well, the piano and guitar romp rocker 'Winner Takes All' and 'Jonas Psalter', a song about a pirate. Both of these tracks, however, were written by Dennis DeYoung with the latter again approaching Yes territory in its style.

DeYoung contributes lead vocals on only two tracks, 'The Grove of Eglantine' and '22 Years', where he shares the lead with Young. The former of these two most closely reflects the sound that would make the band famous later on: mid-tempo prog rock with a strong emphasis on keyboards and lots of powerful chorus vocals, plus hard rock guitar, although the song has a strong sexual reference. '22 Years' is a straight-forward, boogie rock and roll song with lots of lyrical and musical cliches. It's easy to imagine a band like Poison or Faster Pussycat or even The Black Crowes covering this live. Personally I find this one of the less interesting tracks on the album in spite of the performance.

One interesting point is how many tracks were written and sung by John Curulewski. On side one, he delivers 'As Bad As This', a song with just acoustic guitar, vocals, and some percussion. This song easily passed me by before, but I am picking up interest in it more when I listen carefully. I still think the hidden 'Plexiglass Toilet' track, which follows here, is well executed with all the right emphasis on having fun. Curulewski takes up a lot of side two, having written '22 Years', 'The Serpent Is Rising' and the spoken track 'Krakatoa'. The title track was ranked the number one Styx song by Classic Rock History, a move they justify by saying their choices were based on the quality of the music rather than popularity. I rather like the track, and it does lean more into prog territory (again close to Uriah Heep) than a couple of other regular tracks. The sound seems to become intentionally distorted near the end and the song ends rather abruptly without any musical conclusion after the final chorus.

'Krakatoa' reminds me of Hawkwind's poetic interludes, only Curulewski is shouting his head off as bizarre effects begin creeping in. The tracks concludes with an early version of the THX audio track 'Deep Note', which was taken from a track called 'Spaced' by Beaver and Krause. The final track is a rendering of Handel's 'Hallelujah Chorus' with all five members given vocal credits.

Reasons why this album might not stack up well to other albums are the fairly high number of Uriah Heep-like rockers and fewer Yes-like prog tracks. 'As Bad As This' might have been regarded simply as an unusual track for Styx but the toilet song has been more damaging than helpful. 'Krakatoa' and 'Hallelujah Chorus' are interesting additions, but on an album of mostly prog-influenced hard rock, they stand out as being puzzling.

Perhaps they greatest fault of the album is that it seems more like a collection of songs created by individual members at their own devices and whims rather than a collective effort focusing on the band's sound. Dennis DeYoung's lack of mic time is certainly noticed, though I don't mind the Young emphasis on hard rock. Young has some great powerful, soaring vocals though once or twice he seems to struggle with hitting the notes.

My own opinion is that, along with the other first four albums, 'The Serpent Is Rising' features a few tracks really worth taking in while the rest are more of curiosities. I still give it 3 stars.

Latest members reviews

3 stars I was a big fan of this band for rock in general and never much thought of them as very prog until later on as I thought about it. The first album I heard was Styx II in 1977 after John C departed and grew fond of Father OSA which was a simpler prog song. I got curious and bought their catalog ( ... (read more)

Report this review (#2845462) | Posted by Sidscrat | Wednesday, October 12, 2022 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Kind of a silly album, in a good way though. The lyrics on tracks like Witch Wolf and The Grove Of Englantine grace the listener with some really over the top stereotypical progressive lyrics (it's like a spoof of how people see "prog"). Then you get hard rockers like 22 Years and Young man with ... (read more)

Report this review (#2593293) | Posted by Beautiful Scarlet | Thursday, September 9, 2021 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Styx-The Serpent is Rising After the good but overall weaker effort of 'Styx II', Styx released one of their most groundbreaking albums yet. The mighty 'The Serpent is Rising' came and became a pretty odd release in Styx's discography. The Serpent is Rising is a widely varied album, with son ... (read more)

Report this review (#1296605) | Posted by Fearabsentia | Saturday, October 25, 2014 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Recently, I spent some time reading an interview with Dennis DeYoung regarding the first four Styx LPs. I'm not surprised how dissapointed he is with those albums. As a long time fan of his work I've always felt like this version of the band did not get the credit they were due. After reading hi ... (read more)

Report this review (#711568) | Posted by batbold66 | Friday, April 6, 2012 | Review Permanlink

3 stars The third Styx album, entitled 'The Serpent Is Rising' is an album that aims high, and I mean very high, but it doesn't fully come off. And for trivia's sake, James Young actually pens some of the more progressive songs, while the more appreciated dudes like Dennis DeYoung and John Curulewski ... (read more)

Report this review (#281039) | Posted by Brendan | Saturday, May 8, 2010 | Review Permanlink

2 stars Styx is in a relatively thin vein of prog bands that share elements with hair metal, glam bands, and pop. With painfully high vocals, screeching instruments, and simply dreary music, Styx' The Serpent Is Rising ranks as one of their most prolific outputs. I would - without a doubt - consider this to ... (read more)

Report this review (#86057) | Posted by Shakespeare | Monday, August 7, 2006 | Review Permanlink

2 stars By their third album, Styx had virtually given up on any complicated prog arrangements, and focused on the simpler, radio-friendly song format. Still, they showed their prog chops on some songs; most noteably the keyboard rocker "Jonas Psalter", "Witch Wolf" and the title track. But then a ... (read more)

Report this review (#48201) | Posted by | Saturday, September 24, 2005 | Review Permanlink

2 stars The early Styx albums fell into two categories: Those that worked well, and those that clunked along. Unfortunately, "Serpent" is one that clunks along in a clumsy fashion. Not that there aren't some decent songs on the album; because, there are. But, the album feels as though it's a disjointed ... (read more)

Report this review (#17347) | Posted by | Friday, December 26, 2003 | Review Permanlink

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