I like the beats and I like the yelling: Pestilength, Snøgg, Kostnatění

Pestilength: Basom Gryphos
Out 7th March on Nuclear Winter/Sentient Ruin/Goat Throne

Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen, we have a death/doom band that doesn’t sound exactly like Incantation, I’m so happy I could cry. ‘Basom Gryphos’ is the second LP from the Spanish entity known as Pestilength, and whilst not the most obviously ground-breaking exercise in death metal you’ll hear this year, there is a magic and class to these tracks that warrants serious consideration.

The production is warm, bouncy, murky, it feels like slowly descending into a thick, oozing sludge of brown mud. Drums retain an earthy bass rumble, with just enough clarity to the snare and bass drum to cut through the wall of guttural noise presented by the rest of the mix. The guitars – whilst down-tuned to fuck in a way that is not uncommon for this style – have a ghostly, almost reflective undertone to them.

For all its weight and size, the slightest inflection of dissonance or shift to minor key from raw atonality is exaggerated by the guitar tone, shifting the whole mode of the piece one way and then another. This can only be achieved by a synchronicity between tone choice and riff style that brings to life the subtle compositional work beneath the blunt brutality of the immediate presentation. Vocals eschew the race to the bottom as far as pitch is concerned, instead favouring a collection of passionate wails and mid-range growls that serve as a nice contrast to the overwhelming low-end of the rest of the mix.

Although the music does borrow from Incantation, not least in aesthetic choices, the riffing style is very much its own beast. The tracks maintain a consistency of tempo and rhythm more akin to black metal, and in this death metal setting it only serves to drive home the thick slew of noise that is thrown at the listener. Mild dissonance marries up with chromatic transitions, calling to mind Gorguts at times. Although here Pestilength must temper their percussive impulses, thus ensuring that the intricacy of their playing is fully articulated. It’s a fine balance between opening up some imaginative creative corridors whilst maintain a distinctive aesthetic throughout.

This is the ultimate key to the success of ‘Basom Gryphos’, and what elevates it above the usual penny farthing OSDM acts. Familiar faces abound on this album at every level. But Pestilength work them into compositions that are very much their own. Each piece is a bulldozer that gathers together cultural touchstones from death metal’s rich history and forces them into new and novel arenas.

Every time death metal tries to break out of its funk it seems to fall further backward. Until we end up in the bizarre situation where explicitly retro acts like Blood Incantation are praised for their forward thinking ethos. The problem is that actual quality death metal that breaks the mould is just not as sexy as the postmodern bells and whistles of these media darlings. ‘Basom Gryphos’ is one such example of death metal frankly just being itself, opening out a creative space through music that has blood coursing through its veins without feeling like a repeat of the past.

But the problem is that Pestilength are working on aesthetic territory that may be too familiar for casual listeners to notice their uniqueness, and will instead favour another trip into crass experimentalism that has nothing to say about death metal as an art form. Those that know will pay attention and praise this work. But there is a worry that there are too few albums like ‘Basom Gryphos’ out there to shaw up the future of the style for another decade.

Time will tell. In the meantime, give this album a spin and listen without distraction. If you close your eyes and focus, the experience may almost be akin to falling in love with quality death metal all over again.

Snøgg: Dan, ko je vrag vzel šalo
Out 4th March, self-released

Slovenia’s Snøgg offer a brand of conceptually weighty experimental black(?) metal(?), proudly shoving elements of jazz, noise, and obnoxious 90s alt rock quirkiness into the listener’s face, daring them to commit the taboo of closed mindedness. ‘Dan, ko je vrag vzel šalo’ is a single twenty minute long track seemingly crafted to pack in as many cultural touchstones as humanly possible into one continuous piece. As ever with such explicitly avant-garde endeavours – as in music that has experimentation as its central meaning as opposed to incidentally falling on experimentation in the quest for higher artistic meaning – we must ask what Snøgg are achieving above and beyond eclectically stretched noise.

In all honesty the finished product that is ‘Dan, ko je vrag vzel šalo’ is not nearly as bad as it claims to be. For starters, this is actually one long piece of music as opposed to three or four separate pieces stitched together Opeth style with no connecting threads whatsoever. Each segment leads into the next. If it is achieved chromatically there will be a rhythmic continuity that guides the listener through the transition. If the music jarringly shifts from one colour to another the persistent vocal lines keep everything tied together. The many competing voices – from the usual guitar drum set up, to a string and horn section, synths, industrial noise and eccentric spoken word poetry – all work toward keeping this procession of the macabre on the railroad tracks.

There are builds in intensity anchored by simple galloping rhythms and dissonant strings that feed into explicitly major key crescendos, thus supplementing the tonal pallet of the piece with some much needed convention, only to once again fall into the musically bizarre. But Snøgg can get away with beating this dead horse precisely because they do the legwork in keeping everything just on the right side of utterly incoherent. There is enough musical architecture to allow them breathing space to indulge jazzy dissonance juxtaposed with surprisingly groove driven drums.

Then again, we must note that at about two thirds of the way through the piece the percussion drops out and all devolves into noise. One central distorted voice remains, narrating its way through the static. Although this may be a slightly predictable way to end such an explicitly experimental exercise, the noise itself seems to be made entirely of voice, as a myriad of black metal vocalisations can be discerned in the background, invoking an image of a Legion-esque possession by many demons. It’s an interesting approach to the art of noise, but it perhaps did not deserve to make up such a significant portion of this piece, and results in a rather flat ending for a work that arrived with such high-minded fanfare.

Despite all this however, one must commend Snøgg for spending real time and effort in arranging this genre hopping journey in a way that still retains a creative throughline beyond empty eclecticism. A work that’s well worth a butchers for those craving music packed with relentlessly insistent experimentation.

Kostnatění: Oheň hoří tam, kde padl
Out 4th March on Mystiskaos

Kostnatění’s latest EP offers an exceptionally rare commodity in this day and age, especially when considered in light of their debut LP, 20’s ‘Hrůza zvítězí’: clear and distinct progression, yet incrementally so. This is the same beast of dense, frantic, dissonance driven modern black metal, but where previously this was literally all Kostnatění had to offer, we are now given a tight package of melodic character, heroic undertones, and dare I say epic triumphalism to supplement the still clear presence of jagged abrasion.

How has this been achieved? Well, the obvious answer is that these three tracks are adaptations of traditional Turkish songs, and this informs the choice of key, structure, and the rich clean vocals that supplement the limited timbres on offer. What it doesn’t seem to influence – based on my limited knowledge of Turkish traditions – is the rhythm, which is still the unpredictable and restless montage of tempo changes and drumbeats formed almost entirely from complex fills.

But this marriage of modern, dissonant black metal with a much older musical style works so seamlessly that one can make reference to the music without mentioning these antecedents. It feels like an utterly novel and engaging approach within the crowded field of contemporary extreme metal that it deserves to be talked about on its own terms. The impetus toward dissonance in the 21st Century was both entirely understandable and completely regrettable. It placed a straightjacket on artists, restraining them into a one-dimensional corner, leaving nothing left but an arms race of artists trying to “out dissonance” each other. Kostnatění’s debut was one such example of this.

Working in some traditional melody, compositional teleology, or a greater variety of textures into the music should not be too hard to achieve. But time and again artists came up dry, compromising the repulsive aspects of the music in favour of overcooked sentimentality. By working in the intriguing and epic aspects of Turkish folk music, Kostnatění have stumbled onto a surprisingly effective formula for retaining the raw power and technical complexity of this music whilst injecting melody, harmony, and a clear purpose for this brand of black metal.

Each moment feels like it’s about to buckle under the weight of information stuffed within it. Make no mistake, this is still a ferocious beast. But from these atomised units of polyrhythms, layered guitars, contrapuntal play, and ambiguity of key arise epic themes and glorious melodic refrains that feel like they belong nowhere else. I can only congratulate Kostnatění for eking out an utterly novel creative space in ‘Oheň hoří tam, kde padl’, applause is due all round.

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