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Pestilential Shadows – Depths

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In black metal, there is always an urge to dwell entirely at one end of the genre or the other—either to create nonstop stampedes of riffy violence and militant Satanism, or to bring together airy clouds of cosmic vapor into spacey musical sprawls. One side has its work cut out for it (to remain interesting within rather rigid limitations), while the other allows for the input of pretty much any outside musical influence. What makes Pestilential Shadows so interesting is their ability to expertly dwell between the two extremes of black metal, channeling an atmospheric mixture of violent thrash worship and freewheeling ambient sorrow that made Scandinavia’s second wave of black metal so successful. And on Depths, their fourth full-length album, this Australian duo summons a satisfying, if not hugely innovative, gathering of old-school black metal.

Starting with opener “Architects of the Spear”, Depths revels in black metal’s traditions, its dissonant guitar tones, shaking percussion, and echoing snarled vocals embody all the haunting grandeur of early Burzum and Satyricon. The song easily transitions between rumbling warlike attack and bleak smoky despair. From there on, each song straddles the line between black metal’s two poles —”Choirs of the Blackened Stars” begins with a rumbling incantation that leads to a pained dirge, while the title track and “Lost Geists of the Sunlight Sphere” each alternate between dissonance and melody, rage and pain, roaring hellfire and frigid frost. Occasional moments of quiet guitar melody accentuate the looming shadows surrounding them, such as the intro section to “Putrid Earth”. Also notable is the album’s production, which seems to use modern recording techniques without sacrificing that classic Norwegian early black metal murkiness; the instruments blend together into a single crushing blast, and the minor touches of synth ambience used on the album are perfectly placed and pitched to add emotion rather than destroy the album’s ancient vibe.

Depths is by no means perfect. Too many of the songs fade out, which is a shame given how good the closings are on the ones that don’t end so weakly. More so, one could argue that it is not a mold-breaking album—this sounds like Black Metal and could, to the uninitiated, seem a primer album on the genre’s tropes. But it is that powerful mix of black metal’s many parts that makes the album such a enthralling listen. There is no shove towards one end of the spectrum or the other, no built-in audience that it’s supposed to please. Pestilential Shadows create music that champions its genre’s middle ground. Depths is well rounded and smartly crafted, brimming with all the death and despair you crave, but with none of the pretension you despise.

— Scab Casserole

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Pestilential Shadows – “Depths”

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Pestilential Shadows – “Lost Geists of the Sunlight Sphere”

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Depths will be released by Adverse Order Music on February 4.

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