The stylistic banner of Seattle’s Plague Bearer brands the band as Unholy Black Satanic War Metal. The striking cover art of their debut album is itself a devotional to demons, and the song titles also scream blasphemy at the top of their lungs. The band’s cloaked, hooded, and masked countenances on stage double-down on the ethos of Hell come to Earth. And of course the album’s title, Summoning Apocalyptic Devastation, is perhaps the most brazen foreshadowing of the ruin within.
Given all that, some people might already be expecting nothing more than the kind of malformed and potentially monotonous sonic abuse that’s the stock in trade of many units who sadistically attack listeners’ ears under the genre sign of Blackened Death Metal. But there you would be leaping to the wrong conclusion.
To be sure, Summoning Apocalyptic Devastation is an explosive and devastating experience, frequently poisonous, almost relentlessly bone-smashing, and as intrinsically evil as all the surface hallmarks would lead you to expect. But the songs also pack riveting riffs, mood-changing melodies more nuanced than you would guess, and the performance skill of veteran executioners.
And thus in those ways (and others) the album may surprise listeners (less of a surprise if you’ve heard any of the track premieres that have preceded the full stream we bring you today). Indeed, we think it’s likely that this is a record which will still be vividly remembered come list-making time at the end of this year.
The high quality of the album will be less of a surprise to those who know that Plague Bearer had its genesis in the mid-’90s and was then re-branded as Drawn and Quartered in 1996 as a result of line-up changes. Yet the lure of a more blackened version of death metal didn’t die. The PR materials for the new album explain:
“Guitarist K.S. Kuciemba (Drawn And Quartered, Draghkar, Serpent Rider) was determined to keep the Satanic flame alive, slowly amassing simpler, eviler blackened riffs with partner H (Drawn And Quartered, ex-Vetus Obscurum) and putting out a demo in 2001 and EP in 2006 with Nuclear Winter Records. In 2017, K and H reunited with longtime ally T on drums, along with vocalist Nihilist (ex-Abazagorath, ex-Lord Gore, ex-Thy Infernal), to infect the Pacific Northwest with live rituals.”
And now, at long last, we have this debut album.
photo by Brandon Corsair
With 10 songs executed in 38 minutes Plague Bearer don’t protract their protean perturbations. Although the album’s penultimate song “In Satan’s Name” does top the six-minute mark, most of the songs are considerably more compact. But for the moment let’s focus on “In Satan’s Name” because it so vividly encapsulates aspects of the music that make the album seize attention and stand out.
Along with an undulating bass, the livid clatter of the snare drum and the thunder of a kick drums drive the song’s rushing momentum as the guitars discharge a dense haze of fiery sound that rises, falls, and writhes, somehow managing to channel both exultation and misery on a grand scale, and the vocals are absolutely unhinged in their mad and malignant snarling and screaming.
The impact of the song is like a rolling blast front of magnificent savagery. Frenetically glittering lead-guitar arpeggios can be heard in the midst of the percussive tumult and the searing riffage, and the soloing swirls in glorious ecstasy, briefly banishing the bleakness and despair that co-exist in the melody with untamed barbarity.
It’s a breathtaking song that never backs off the attack, but it’s not just viscerally powerful and scathing. The riffing and soloing also make it memorable, and they have more emotional nuance than you might expect. In reflecting on it, the melancholy in the music is as much of a steady presence as the fire and the fury.
“In Satan’s Name” could be considered a hallmark of the album, in the sense that it shows that Plague Bearer‘s songwriting brings more to the table than just punishing drumwork, scothing riffage, and demonically rabid vocals. The magnetic attraction of the riffs becomes manifest in every track, albeit in different ways.
photo by John Malley
The grim, heaving monstrosity and whining whirl of the album opener “Unholy Black Satanic War Metal” shows that right away, and it further introduces the listener to the immense tidal-wave power of the sound, the raw bestiality of the vocals, the screaming spectral exuberance of the soloing, and the ways in which the drum-kit becomes a piece of automatic weaponry.
By contrast, the melodies of “Summoning Apocalyptic Devastation” create a calamitous atmosphere of implacable cruelty, infernal imperiousness, frightening agony, and crushing hopelessness, while “Defiled By Sodomy” and “Decapitated Angels” are more in the vein of ruinous war machines bent on destroying everything in their path, featuring some of the most obliterating drum attacks on the album as well as rapidly careening and cavorting fretwork that seems truly out of its mind — although the latter song is also a vivid example of Plague Bearer‘s ability to bring beleaguered and desperate moods into the midst of maniacal conflict.
Skipping ahead (which is in no way intended to imply that there’s any track on the album worth skipping), “Under One Sign” is diabolically majestic in its atmosphere, and home to exotic melodies that are as sorcerous and seductive as they are viper-like, and “Rise of the Goat” administers the kind of full-throttle beating that will have you checking your skull for fractures, as well as delivering shred-tastic guest guitar soloing by Andrew Lee of Ripped To Shreds (he also mixed the album).
In all these emotionally intense experiences, straight through the berserk revels of “Churches Are in Flames” and the feral, hook-loaded album closer “Christbane” (probably the most highly head-bangable track on the record), the triple-pronged vocals are hideous and horrifying, distorted into gritty and grotesque sonic forms that roar belly-deep and scorch sky-high, and are never less than frightening in their ravenous, hold-nothing-back savagery.
We mentioned that Andrew Lee mixed the album. Guitars, bass, and vocals were self-engineered at K.S. Kuciemba‘s home studio The Plague Pit, while drums were recorded with Jon Schluckebier at Radioactive Recording – and the album was mastered by Loic Fontaine of Krucyator Productions. Credit for that hard-to-forget cover art goes to Thomas Westphal/Necromaniac (with layout by Obscure Visions).
Summoning Apocalyptic Devastation will be released on LP, CD, and digital formats through Nameless Grave Records on March 3rd — this Friday!