“Vulgar apes, flailing through time and space… trampling, consuming… robbing history from those who have no voice. [Human structures are] monuments to our death… forged on the lifeblood of the earth.”
This is a familiar sentiment to anyone who’s listened to just about any metal record, well… ever, but especially in the last decade as artists turn their hatred increasingly inward and find a bleak, bottomless well of inspiration: humanity is scum and our ‘reverse meritocracy’ of rewarding the loudest, brashest and least compassionate among us is perverse. Thankfully Pestifere have created a paean to the ways of old on Hope Misery Death not through lyrics full of Norse imagery, layer upon layer of keyboards or a bloviated fantasy concept story, but through a refined, straightforward four-piece attack of pure aggression.
And despite the murky, monochrome album art shown at the top of the article, this isn’t a cavernous ultra lo-fi black metal record by a band of hateful Icelanders (although the band’s hometown of Minneapolis probably experiences equally horrible winters) – the overall sound here is a thrashy, blackened melodic metal with juuust enough of a smoky, pagan char on specific riffs to complete the sentiment of eschewing civilization and returning to an uncivilized world. But you won’t find any Moonsorrow-isms or Renaissance Faire instruments here. This is music for a late autumn live performance at a dank bar with a dark beer in hand and a long, cold drive home during which you can let your mind sink into what you’ve just heard.
Opening straight away with “Don’t Let The Winter Take You” (see? what was I just saying about winters?) it quickly becomes apparent that the twin guitar attack is the primary focus of these songs, and for good reason. Guitarists Lucas and Aaron trade off in stereo channels between rhythms, leads, brassy chords, intricate picking and a mixture of each. Both have mastered a Keep of Kalessin style of fast riffing and palm muting that allows chords to shine through where necessary, and elsewhere allows for stretches of wrist-wrecking tremolo runs (see 2:30 on “Cormorant Tree”). It’s enjoyable enough simply listening to what each guitar is doing in each song.
Which brings me to the production – it, refreshingly, has a bit of auditory space between instruments that complements the vibe of each song and provides plenty of room for all the aforementioned guitar play, plus the frenetic drums which never seem to stay in-groove for too long before either dropping or increasing pace for the next riff section. The bass is solid, tight and appropriately gritted up for this style, but unfortunately buried in the mix a bit; it would have been ideal to bring it up a tad and and give it more presence as the midway point between the guitar and rhythm section. Same goes for the vocals, which are just harsh enough to meet the blackened thrash requirement, but not so spiky as to throw its hat into the ring with any one genre. All elements play a little fast and loose with each other, which again contributes to that fantastic refined, straightforward four-piece attitude.
Tracks like “Peregrine’s Timbre” slow the pace down, up the atmosphere and prepare you for one of the album’s two acoustic pieces, “Dispirit,” which has more in common with an old Randy Rhoads demo than with any number of similar acoustic album breaks by black, thrash or pagan metal bands. Later tracks like “Tomb of Monumental Decay” begin with a bit of shuffling drag, but that doesn’t last long before the blastbeats and rapid pace take over and the riffs once again trade off between left and right, low end and percussion. “Mine Is A Strange Prison” restores the melodic thrash atmosphere and sprinting solos before finishing with the final acoustic number “To Those Who Lost Their Home,” a beautiful display of simple, harmonious playing.
The only bit of nitpicking I have, aside from the vocals and bass being a bit buried, is that some of the riffs and emotions in these songs seem like they’d benefit so much from just a little more studio sparkle: a few echoed guitar lines in the background to complement the rhythm guitars, a dash of additional vocals for punch during the chorus, etc. Nothing enormous or super high budget, just the little things that give something extra to really bring out the power in each moment. That said, Pestifere present a seriously badass thrash/black combo on Hope Misery Death that I’d highly recommend for any listener. Here’s hoping their next offering is just as good.
3.5 / 5 TOILETS OV HELL
Hope Misery Death is available on CD & cassette via Eihwaz Recordings, July 15, 2016