So live, that when thy summons comes to join / The innumerable caravan, which moves / To that mysterious realm, where each shall take / His chamber in the silent halls of death, / Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night, / Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed / By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave, / Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch / About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.” William Cullen Bryant, Thanatopsis

When you feel nothing more than a dull ache for your own gratification standing before a piece of art, consider your own naked mediocrity before all else and soak within the first of many necessary deaths. ‘Gong adjacent musician/artist Balam is well-respected for the consistent results he has drawn from an pathos driven collaborative ethos these last two decades, insisting that the increasingly valuable and independent font of Pestilential Shadows showers first upon they whom would immerse and engage the resonance of his vision, that of death worship and personal interpretations of fundamental black metal ideology. For their sixth full-length album, and second with this especially strong congress of musicians, the intent -should- be quite obviate as the fluidly splashing dark grandeur of ‘Revenant’ takes us upon its first arc — This is black metal music meant to stir the listener into a whirring of emotional transfixion, compounding impressive traditional musical ideals but also unhinging the mind of its greater folly. Death’s hands are clasping both sides of the skull here, cupping the resonance of decay and shouting loud and sweet enough to crack modern man’s glass vault of ignorance, time is up.

“Scenes”, orders, clubs, collectives, these are most often illusions conjured by old souls who knew they needed religious numbers to sustain their craft. We can consider Pestilential Shadows a black monolith that has seen the wear of every season and, over time, been imbued by many an inspired magus who’d wander in its midst. Formed in 2003 by Balam and I believe Azgorh before he’d splinter off into full-time work on his prolific solo project Drowning the Light the duo would be crucially joined by Wraith of Nazxul (whom Balam has been a part of since ~2004) for their debut full-length (‘Embrace After Death‘, 2003) and then Desolate (Austere, Temple Nightside) for their second album ‘Cursed‘ (2006). We could consider this the first major point of notable convergence for the band since these folks had either made strong waves within the scantly sincere Australian black metal reality at the time or would go on to form bands that defined/exemplified entire sub-genres in their wake. In fact you’ll still find folks who label Pestilential Shadows “depressive/suicidal” black metal by habit since their early work featured both members of Austere, or, both played on 2009’s ‘In Memorian, Ill Omen‘ at least. As a personal anecdote this is where I discovered the band, after buying a Those Opposed issue of ‘Withering Illusions and Desolation‘ and noting Balam‘s guest vocal credit on “The Dawn Remains Silent”. Anyhow, I’m going into some depth here because I want to double-up on this idea that the strength of the collaboration is what creates the best results as we walk through Pestilential Shadows‘ discography and this wheels back around to Balam‘s ideals being centered on creating the best black metal art possible but also directing the right result for the spirit of the band. For my own taste ‘Depths‘ (2011) was both the peak of this era’s guitar work, a key transition into deeper facets of melody, and altogether the basal development of the intensifying waves that are ‘Ephemeral‘ (2014) and ‘Revenant’ today.

In lieu of prattling on about production, time between releases, or more name-dropping (Advent Sorrow, Erebus Enthroned, Temple Nightside, Illimitable Dolor, all of ’em rule) the greater shape, tone, and timbre of ‘Revenant’ as composed music should serve as the triad of distinction here for folks who’re already familiar with Pestilential Shadows. Leading with thoughts on immersion and ego-death were intentional in the sense that to appreciate these 6-7 minute pieces any generalization of influential spheres won’t be helpful in conveying the cultivation of voice we find within; Likewise, each song has such intentional placement and slick, pro-fluid rendering that we cannot see this as anything other than a self-directed journey beyond the strong idealism of ‘Ephemeral’. In laymen’s terms? From my point of view this is a glorious melodic black metal album that manages to kick up enough of an full-spectrum edge that it wouldn’t necessarily be labeled as such. You could rightfully connect with these rhythms touting several interpretations — Musing over heroic darkness, sorrowful human decay, rampant pestilence, or even land a bit closer to the artists intent (and prior prose, considering the title) but it’d be such a shame to experience any of it as typical or ordinary. The major argument on my part for ‘Revenant’ centers around the tired reality of black metal today, that there are thousands of black metal bands creating lovely and seemingly infinite streams of guitar melody nowadays but few who can manage it with conviction, purposeful application, or even a bit of their own technique. Pestilential Shadows inspire throughout this album by showcasing just that, an ability to convey the introverted mind spiraling through a flood of nihilistic logic, a process that may curl up into meaningful resolve or simply land in awe of death’s power over the sentient. Trust that each piece here goes somewhere profound and saw some serious effort set upon conveyance.

“Procession of Souls” arrives just as an album opener should, creating spectacle and tension while briefly foreshadowing our certain swoop into menace, or, in this case a galloping descent into the core verse melody which steadily alternates with a dirging progression. These are elements of actual songcraft in action and, as much as I hate to create an “other” to splatter shit against in order to make a point, not just piecemeal vignettes of technique and/or borrowed chunks of riffs aped off of 90’s artists. The opener arrives in waves and simply smashes against the ear a number of times until the breach beyond the ~6:12 or so when the melodic sentence can finally punctuate its variation. Not only do we get a sense of persistent movement here but a feeling for the modern classical/film score influenced compositions which feature throughout the album, a sense of a bigger picture and a longer conversation is yet another factor that has me swooning over the classic melodic black metal feeling of ‘Revenant’. It almost pains me to not do a track-by-track analysis here but the biggest waves will suffice in generating appropriate interest, of which we should include “Twilight Congregation” with its atmospheric nightside robustness to start and subtle downturn around ~1:22 minutes in, this is the most glowing composition of the lot and perhaps the most static beyond its rhythmic shifts. It is an almost shockingly modern piece upon first glance simply because it is devoid of big, gawking riff interruptions or, soaring up front melody… Which we find in “Sword of Damocles” afterward.

“Revenant” is the apex, the rotted flesh revealing the crushed and yellowed bone beneath, the sweet smell of the well-scoured corpse without all of the buzzing flies… The piece to essentially grip me by the ear and wake up to the deeper majesty of ‘Revenant’ as a full listen, more-or-less. The deeper-stirring rhythm guitar work, the circular resonance of the main riff, the break into moonlit resonance, Pestilential Shadows‘ve not simply set a song upon us with the title track but painted a sky high vortex-shaped mural from their own blood to ensure the album is not simply sat through. Of course they’ve pulled off a sort of “Blood Shall Be Spilled” moment around ~5:42 into the song and this moment stops me dead in my thoughts every time I listen to the album, trust that few records warrant this sort of interruption anymore on my part. Point being that I cannot reduce the impact of this song nor the album itself, not only because I’d rather not compare it to other black metal experiences thus far in 2021 but because ‘Revenant’ consistently sets my mind reeling and shrugging away any analytical folly I’d otherwise try to conjure beyond each successive listen. It is such a joy to be so enthralled by death and this overbearingly rapturous work emanating its scornful truth upon life. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Seance Records
RELEASE DATE:September 3rd, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Black Metal

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