Plague Bearer: Summoning Apocalyptic Devastation
Out 3rd March on Nameless Grave Records
What do you get when you cross the grandiosity of Immolation at the height of their powers with a dash of black metal mysticism, and the raw energy of formative death metal? You get a series of descriptors that does not come close to encapsulating the brilliance to be found on the rather tardy debut from the Seattle based veterans in Plague Bearer. This is the side project from the guys in longstanding death metal stalwarts Drawn and Quartered. Having formed back on the early 1990s, but only releasing a string of demos and an EP whilst members focused on Drawn and Quartered, 2023 sees Plague Bearer finally take shape on ‘Summoning Apocalyptic Devastation’.
It’s an album that transcends the distinctly raw production and through sheer force of compositional and performative will manifests into something borderline symphonic. There are elements of the glum death metal dirge exemplified by Incantation, serving serve as a suitable mediator for the collision of Vigna-esque guitar work with the edgy primalism of pre-2000 USBM. All is set to a raw, unpretentious mix of tight percussive death metal framing this taut package with an immediacy and urgency that emerges from the ground up. Plague Bearer are less preoccupied with emanations from the firmament as is so often the case with theologically preoccupied melodramatic metal.
The production itself is the kind of treatment that ‘Here in After’ probably should have received back in the day. Although “of” the old school, there is no hint of ‘Summoning Apocalyptic Devastation’ pandering to this superficial checkbox. The raw, tinny drums, the razor sharp, direct guitar tone, and the lack of surplus symphonics or additional effects have been chosen for the simple reason that they are the most effective delivery mechanism for this adrenaline fuelled gut punch of fiery death metal.
Plague Bearer construct these tracks around a strong central melodic refrain in a very similar manner to classic Immolation. Only reaching for atonality at the apex of the music’s chaos. Guitar leads are deployed in lieu of symphonics, building on the central theme they act as heralds of escalating stakes. The monomaniacal simplicity of Incantation plays a central role in this escalation, acting as the perfect juxtaposition to the regal grandeur of the melodic lead guitar, presenting a dichotomy of the bestial and the deified.
Drums are perhaps the most direct element of ‘Summoning Apocalyptic Devastation’, opting for the choppy mechanisms of Mike Smith over the fluidity of mid-90s Immolation. But in context this works as the perfect framing device for Plague Bearer. What this album has which many of these antecedents lack – despite the reverence lavished upon them – is the sense of high drama, aggression, and passion being reached for here. The precision drum work forces a state of emergency on proceedings, it raises the stakes and carries the distinctive riffcraft along with unstoppable momentum. Equally the vocals, by opting for a mid-range black metal bark, manage to lend the overall presentation a sense of barbaric theatre that brings it more in line with a black metal linage.
But ultimately walls of text such as this are so much futile sophistry in the face of albums like ‘Summoning Apocalyptic Devastation’. What matters is the perfect coalescence of these elements into a work of dynamic, engaging, fluid extreme metal that stands apart for its sense of commitment, its conviction, and the near perfect harmonisation between composition, arrangement, and delivery. One of the best we’ve heard in a long time in this field.
Atemporal: Thorn Genesis
Out 7 April on I, Voidhanger Records
Angular, illogical, industrialist black metal meets the oppressive gloom of Sebastian Montesi’s other project Mitochondrion on this debut solo album under the Atemporal moniker. The riffs, their progression, the phrasing, and the rhythmic emphasis all look familiar, but the tonal centre is off, a jagged discord strikes at the heart of any melodic development across these tracks, giving them an unsettling, left-of-centre colouring that marks this album out as truly idiosyncratic.
It bears many similarities to the dissonant, industrial black metal inspired by Mayhem’s ‘Odro ad Chao’ onwards, although here we are presented with a remarkably thin, clear mix. The riffs and their interweaving architecture are expected to stand up on their own account, with no wall of overbearing guitar noise deployed to cloak a lack of content. This, fundamentally, is what makes ‘Thorn Genesis’ that bit more engaging. Not just its straightforward presentation – it is largely mechanical in terms of aesthetic orientation – but the fact that Moritesi demonstrates an adeptness for riffcraft that negates the need to so deploy anything overly showy at the mixing desk.
The guitar tone is thin, tinny, piercing. It works its way through riffs at once abrasive and alienating, yet oddly mournful, as if lamenting the loss of some organic humanist soul that once fleshed out the inner heart of this music, now left with nothing but the artificial. They weave between seemingly illogical, near random melodic dead ends only to coalesce into solidity at unexpected yet welcome junctures, framing the music and allowing the listener to situate themselves within a chronology of sorts. Technical precision enhances this effect but is not the centrepiece of the experience.
Artificial drums circle around this complex, three dimensional interplay, offering violent barrages of percussive noise, or else dropping the tempo to half time, unsettling the flow and momentum of the music and further disorientating the listener. Guttural vocals pose as a mere backdrop, additional instrumental static deployed to further populate a remarkably sparse sonic picture.
‘Thorn Genesis’ stands apart from many aesthetically comparable releases for its ability to craft a melodic and narrative logic above the atomised and conflicted superficiality of these pieces. They evince an internal logic that keeps the listener invested in the story and progression of the music itself. Where many of Atemporal’s peers simply deploy a dense miasma of dissonant industrial ephemera aimed at a readymade audience receptive to such a package, here the approach is more holistic, complete, pregnant with meanings for us to interpret beyond the surface level style.
Kryos: Boreas Expedition
Out 6th February, self-released
The winter metal of Paysage d’Hiver gets a somewhat post hardcore reinterpretation on the debut EP from Germany’s Kryos. ‘Boreas Expedition’ is a narrative retelling of an imagined Antarctic expedition that took place in 1923. Texturally this music serves its purpose to a fault, fostering an engagingly fragile balance between harsh winter synth and crystalline raw black metal with a mournful, bleak undercurrent.
That being said, this is far from compositionally minimalist, despite the production and thematic material all apparently pivoting toward a sparse variant of noise black metal and ambient, the metallic tracks have much to offer in the way of riffs, tempo changes, dramatic builds, essentially all the elements of less explicitly vibe focused music. These more grounded passages emerge seamlessly from spacey noise ambience, giving them a ghostly, almost otherworldly veneer. Loose blast-beats, tremolo picked guitars, and passionately wailing vocals, all are presented in such a way as to do full justice to the cold subject matter of this EP.
The production enhances this experience with all the usual trappings of lo-fi black metal. Drenched in static, inertia, reverb, and obscurity, each riff and melodic idea gains greater mileage from this rich aesthetic package. A fine example of both form and content working in unison to give rise to a supervenient artistic dimension. ‘Boreas Expedition’ offers just the right balance between a pronounced imagery via concept and solid musical content to sink the teeth into, making this both an emotively engaging experience and one that holds up on repeated listens.
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