PULCHRA MORTE – Ex Rosa Ceremonia (2020)REVIEW

Something drops from eyes long blind / He completes his partial mind, / For an instant stands at ease, / Laughs aloud, his heart at peace,” — It is not the promise of ever-cyclic nature and constant change that drives humanity to find beauty in death but, a hope that the unknown serves us (and our beloved) better than worse when the threshold is crossed. As strongly as I’d believe, and insist in life that we are sentimental creatures in denial destined to soil and nothingness, my chest would never rise under the weight of grief and speak it cruelly to the dying. No amount of flowers, shrine, keening or seemingly endless withering sedentary dread can dissolve the dent left in a man who has shared a look of knowing with they at death’s door, as living on means clutching their memory with purpose. The most affected among us see it in others and share readily, the most deadpan among us need a chip or two in the armor to yank open any vessel of pooling grief. The chisel and hammer most effective from my own experience is that of earnest and heaviest doom metal music, and surely some natural alignment with its arm-locking continuum via ‘Nightfall’ through ‘Gothic’ and unto the graces of United States-based death/doom metal quintet Pulchra Morte who rise with sublime and intentionally shared resonance in hand. Their second full-length album, ‘Ex Rosa Ceremonia‘, represents a natural expansion of clever and memorable forms wherein the craft of newly strengthened threads speak to unification away from an unthinking, unfeeling anti-spiritual world.

To this day, and nearly two years later, Pulchra Morte‘s debut record (‘Divina Autem et Aniles‘, 2019) still affects me deeply via the ecstasy of its potent melodic vision and the catharses that pours from the flayed-open death/doom chest it bears. If my reaction was eccentric at the time then I’ll have been well satisfied in being the exact right mark for a death/doom record still and all the same; The album itself was simply lain and built to facilitate its remarkably consistent songwriting. A familiar but not necessarily obviate sound read as a modulation of 90’s melodic death/doom style unfettered of any gothic affect and with some of the sleek bombast one would’ve expected from say, early 2000’s Crowbar at their most melodic sans self-indulgent pity. A vague suggestion but, stylistically speaking Pulchra Morte‘s debut was an album in service to instantaneous engagement via intimate and smartly accessible hooks, be they riffs or well-placed leads. Some of that pre-’95 Paradise Lost affect still graces the edges of heavier riffs here on ‘Ex Rosa Ceremonia’, at the very least the main verse riff from opener “The Serpent’s Choir”, but no doubt Pulchra Morte have quickly found clearer distinction via some new talent and the previously suggested expansion of classic forms unto their own. I’ll speak to some of those changes in due time though it might be pertinent to skim through my review for the prior album for some additional context.

Perhaps the biggest surprise we’d gotten during the not at all rushed advance towards realization of ‘Ex Rosa Ceremonia’ was the addition of two key members from Wolvhammer in vocalist Adam Clemens (Noose Rot, Skeletonwitch) and bassist John Porada who’d added Eulogy guitarist and producer/engineer Jarret Pritchard to their ranks back in 2018. As far as I’ve gathered, each of Pulchra Morte‘s albums were generally built on top of guitarist Jeffrey Breden‘s constant stream of riff and song ideas and this is a point that should be striking, most inter-generational collaborations utilize greener musicians to realize set ideas rather than ever handing over certain creative reigns over. The result is a band that arrives with efficiency via the strong facilitation of experience yet what talent arrives does so with reinforced free will and confidence. These are abstract and probably meaningless notions to some but, it becomes important if you’re interested in comparing the fineries of ‘Divina Autem et Aniles’ with the heavier left hand path of ‘Ex Rosa Ceremonia’ or, if we are to understand the greater intentions, theme and message of this album which is not maudlin but actually empowering.

I’ve thought about vocal critique in extreme metal quite a bit this last year having long emphasized distinct tone, cadence, and “dynamic with feeling” as key criteria for what’d stick best and from that point of view Clemens‘ body of work is most notable for his adaptable dynamic, easily pressing his way through any number of extreme metal sub-genre apropos while still remaining recognizable in each situation. Pulchra Morte and specifically the material on this album seem to have demanded the most of his voice yet via a couple of different clean registers, blackened rasps, and deep death/doom metal sized growls. What does this mean for the full listen? The voice itself offers direction that is less emotionally linear and this brings an extra level of artistry that wasn’t necessarily as important or, emphasized on their first album. A more capable band that is now even more in service to their songs aiming for greater variety, stronger hooks and the soul-grinding guitar work that’d made ‘Divina Autem et Aniles’ so resonant has to be even more deliberate to avoid resembling machined sub-genre entry and Pulchra Morte is most certainly capable and cognizant of where things must head to land just right. Frankly speaking, most melodically inclined death/doom metal bands begin to crumble apart by the second album when there is self-assigned pressure to grow as artists. That said, the goal of this album is ultimately different than the first — Any comparisons cease beyond left hand technique and a taste for dramatic rhythmic development.

If a band intends to lead with feeling, to express themselves and effect the very biological state of the listener in the process I am more than willing to take this to task and take them seriously. So, where do the chills begin to crawl like spider’s legs across my skull? “Knife of the Will” without a doubt provides this moment of potency but also gives example of each argument sustained thus far: Clemens‘ astute performative range, Breden and Pritchard‘s intertwined and descending guitar roles, and a familiar sound with several unexpected but never interfering twists. The clean vocals and classic melodic death/doom lead guitar work that feature in this piece are in such harmony that it might not even serve the listener to overthink or dissect any of it, but rather just enjoy the expert weave of these elements as the roar and refrain of it all presents a lucid emotional event. The aforementioned starting point for ‘Ex Rosa Ceremonia’ via heartiest “The Serpents Choir” and “Fires of Coil” serve the muscled riffs and upfront sledging feeling of Pulchra Morte to great effect, providing a clear thread between the previous album and this one yet things do get weird before Side B fires up. This is perhaps the most important point for my own taste in death/doom metal in general, that this album sustains a vision of classic early-to-mid 90’s death/doom metal style, however specific, where the focus was less on Celtic Frost riff progression and more on (again) feeling conjured in tandem with early melodic death metal. What does that mean? Though this is perhaps more steadily melodic fans of the earliest “Peaceville three” romanticism and its wave of influence across the United States and Europe will “get” this album’s vibe immediately.

Though I’m sure opinions will differ, I’d say this album’s greater divergence comes to its first head as “Prince Among Shadows” plays. Funereal synth and harmonized choral vocals eventually give way to one of the more “rocking” doom metal riffs on the album but the song quickly cuts back to this mournful state transcending expectations with an unforgettable dual acoustic guitar progression that is soon echoed when a solo breaks loose and the full force of the band finally arrives to grind into what is perhaps the heaviest set of riffs on the record thus far. Not only could I imagine this song being a nightmare to pull off in distinct movements live but it’d prove to be the keystone piece that’d sold me on the greater vision of the album. If Side A was a conversation revealing the poorly hidden torments of blind existence, Side B is the solvency to deliver the individual back to meaning as Pulchra Morte speak to the need for the return of metaphysical wonder, philosophical continuity, substance and its application upon highest sentience. We mourn the deadening of our nerves and the easy manipulation of the lazy mind and move forward, empowered by the inexhaustible resource of spiritual-intellectual congruence. At least that is how I’ve interpreted the abstract with some small guidance allowed. This is felt strongest between the slow-built tension of “To Suffer (The Way You Do)” and the surreal release of “Locust Humanity”. The album ends as strong, or in fact stronger than it began in some sense and this is where I’d suggest even more forcefully that ‘Ex Rosa Ceremonia’ wields doubled power next to its already striking, death-obssessed predecessor.

The path forward is achieved via brain and brawn, void of self-pitying dirge and set upon reinforced classic extreme doom metal ceremony. The listening experience has the vital essence of self-direction, of a path ruled over by serious collective vision that arrives seemingly without dominant egotism or too-obscured niche. Pulchra Morte is yet their accessible and affecting selves evolved towards a core philosophy that is admirable and this horizon beyond the dark appears attainable with the companion of ‘Ex Rosa Ceremonia’. As much as I’d want to give the rhythm section more praise, speak to stunning render and production values, and perhaps dig into the theater of forms a bit more clearly… You’ve gotten the idea that the second album from this stellarly death/doom metal band is perhaps the perfect follow-up, a work that effortlessly aggrandizes its sense of purpose and pathos towards a better way. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (95/100)

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Ex Rosa Ceremonia
LABEL(S):Transcending Records
RELEASE DATE:November 6th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Death/Doom Metal,
Melodic Death/Doom Metal

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