PETH – Merchant of Death (2022)REVIEW

A thousand memories haunt me in the form of unforgettable, influential experiences had whilst digging through other folks music collections as a kid, from whipping through most of the mid-80’s Time Life Music Rock’n’Roll Era cassette collections to finally getting to hear ‘Acid Eaters‘ and hating it, they’re all mostly revelation gathered for the sake of a hunt-stalk-and-kill collector mindset built, yet there was one record I’d never looked back on despite it being compelling at time of discovery: David Bowie‘s ‘Low‘. Not for its content or any lack of compelling mystère but rather a matter of fate, the grand leveller’s arrival, as the next LP in the row caught my eye before I could investigate the last, a copy of Black Sabbath‘s ‘Master of Reality‘. Absolute damnation for Bo- through Z- in that particular catalogue followed, once I’d heard Ozzy coughing up a lung there’d been no going back from that point, I’d found the preferential soul sought in music and an impossible to shake bias set its itching splinter in cortex, needing to be dug at forever with all ten fingers pickin’ in. That’d be the only real reason a record like ‘Merchant of Death‘ from Jonestown, Texas-based heavy rock/doom metal quartet Peth is a real thrill rather than a quaint retro occult doom-rock and/or heavy blues treatment of tradition, at least on my end. Spiked with a plenty of personality by way of Satanic panic and a twinge of ‘Welcome to Hell‘ ‘tude, this sort of record speaks my language (tongues) as a restless, paranoid, still a bit stoned and “creeping out the whole garage” kinda gig, still the best kind of heavy rock from where I’m standing decades later.

Objectively speaking, this 2020-formed entity does more-or-less sound like an early Sabbath covers band finally stretching out into originals for the first time but, notably sticking to a clear early 70’s heavy psychedelic rock/proto-metallic swerve without consciously updating the distinct buzz of said stoney guitar tones and jam-ready rhythm section, an almost ‘Let it Burn‘-era Nebula-sized steadfastness achieved via similar intent. Not as melodically obscurant as early Pentagram and related ventures, or anywhere near as spirited as ‘Lonesome Crow‘-era Scorpions, their occasionally late 70’s Budgie-fied sound yet has pre-‘SabotageBlack Sabbath in its rhythmic DNA to the point of impressing with the sheer number of turn-of-phrase’ing flair and fill they’re able to fit into many of the clever transitions found on ‘Merchant of Death‘. References to “Into the Void” are particularly abundant. Needless to re-state, but I’ll do it anyhow, Peth are working with a patchwork quilt of known quantities to some degree, sure, but the precedence for this sort of thing is thick enough throughout the ages that all that’d really matter today is whether or not their enthused treatment of tradition sticks, and it largely does.

Precise yet clearly jammed-on traditional songcraft, a pointed focus on possessed heavy rock attitude/personae, and a number of of memorably drawn guitar harmonies help things stay afloat on this tuneful yet referential band’s treading yet I’d emphasize the vocalists’ (plural) personage most up front when presenting Peth to new listeners, starting with Side A closer-creeper “Let Evil In” and working backwards toward the howl of bounding opener “Dwarvanaught” for the extremes found in his narrative voicing. “Amok” is the crux of my argument, though, as its trundling rhythms reflect some of their classic southern rock aspect flowering with nowadays retro-heavy psych menace. This helps separate ‘Merchant of Death‘ from the plethora of (early) Witchcraft-alikes and whatnot around today without necessarily alienating themselves from either nowadays retro occult rock and/or proto-metal enjoyers.

Peth impress throughout, the running order here is entirely too finely considered and flows in brilliant form, yet I’d eventually begin to prefer the songs where they pulled away from traditional doom-rock tropes most, embracing their sort of arcane-yet-swingin’ occult rock side. The radio-ready bop n’ ride of “Run the Night” is especially memorable, a moodiness echoed within the aforementioned scuffle of “Amok” and the rhythmic interplay-heavy first two thirds of closer “Karmic Debt” wherein these sort of darker turns light the album on fire without hitting the ol’ Sabbath groove too hard. In terms of authentic sounding early 70’s proto-heavy/doom metal from folks who’ve managed notably apt study of olden songcraft (and not just sound design) you couldn’t do much better than Peth‘s debut at this point. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Merchant of Death
LABEL(S):Electric Valley Records
RELEASE DATE:May 27th, 2022

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