I can appreciate a modest, grounded concept album that maturely develops its themes, but at the same time, heavy metal is such a good vehicle for completely off-the-wall, labyrinthine concept albums that it feels like a waste not to have at least some bizarre twists in there. Time travel, meta-religious fanfiction, elaborate operatic plots, I'll take any and everything as long as there's a passable justification to get some weird spoken word vocals in somewhere on the album. Texas-based Bryan Eckermann is definitely on the same page as me here, as the solo artist's latest album Plague Bringers takes a science-fiction setting of mutually assured destruction and psychic manipulation for a backdrop to its gleeful, riff-packed melodic death and black metal. Itself a follow-up to a previous concept album, Plague Bringers is at times domineering and at others remorsefully wistful, matching the twists and turns in its saga of the simultaneous end of two civilizations. For a brief sample, here's the lyric video for new single "Moonlight and Frostbite."

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With an entirely Halloween-appropriate synth intro starting things off, "Moonlight and Frostbite" strikes an ominous tone that's reinforced by the doomy intro riff and accompanying bells. After that, the band's gleefully sadistic black/death hybrid kicks into gear and showcases their vicious urgency. Aggressive riffs and drumming provide a backdrop for absolutely monstrous melodic leads and snarled vocals with catchy, scream-along-able phrasing on the choruses. Stu Block (Into Eternity) guests on the track, helping to create a sublime combination of wailed and screamed vocals that slot in alongside the powerful guitar harmonies on the track with hair-raising potency.

Impressively varied and threading an intriguing narrative path, the over-the-top yet resolutely consistent Plague Bringers highlights some of the best parts of modern melodic black/death metal. This is a genre that absolutely thrives on theatricality and an understanding of how to make killer riffs fun, and here both these aspects come in majestic, malicious excess.

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Plague Bringers releases November 5th, 2021 independently via the band's Bandcamp page.