The gods order it be, the gods forbid it. — Ripped open with a loud slice, a shout and a great parting shove the sacrificial abdomen is split before our belomancer as he begins shaking the teraphim, three rune-carved arrows, back-and-forth in quiver as the steaming intrigue of the exposed viscera settles. All future-sight drawn from the bulging release of spotted, diseased entrails spells out doom per the superstitions of the onlookers but our seer-visitor knowingly punches straight for the liver, gripping it and yanking as he would gold (were he a thief and not a sophist). The collective will of their mysterious cult is placated as the arrow of denial is chosen at random, a condemnation which excites their cult of death into rapturous feast. The ‘old school’ death metal fandom at large will recognize familiar shapes, cruelest strikes of horrifying detail in bursts within the spiral of guts and grime-stricken high-rate riffcraft as the a mysterious haze of Brisbane, Australia-based quartet Pustilence generates their hellish whorl. ‘Beliefs of Dead Stargazers and Soothsayers‘ offers a blunt merger between the best traditions and their own curvaceous line drawn outside the box. Relying upon hideously distorted visions of the past to inform their esoteric choices today these fellowes present the apex standard of classic death metal one step beyond its commercial peak, the mid-1990’s, as this impressive debut full-length manages not only elite-level craft but continues to build atop an unsettling lore, an estranged realm of brutality all their own.
Pustilence formed as a trio circa 2018, these folks represent a rarity in their region not only in the sense that they’d aimed to play death metal at all but even moreso for their focus on a pure, ‘old school’ death metal influenced style. Though I’d not make a big point of it Brisbane isn’t rich in such lore if you’re keen to dig back in time (beyond the wildly underrated Misery) and the presence of strong actively gigging groups today. In this sense a group in this style quickly calls for a smaller, high precision lens upon their intensely idealistic craft at this point of nascency, since their two releases have thus far managed an incorruptible, brilliantly stoked mid-90’s style death metal patterned beyond the peak of the thrash influenced originals and into the hints of prog-death and brutal death finding more widespread popularity circa ’94-’96. Not quite as sophisticated as records like Oppressor‘s ‘Solstice of Oppression‘ and Demented Ted‘s ‘Promises Impure‘ but touching upon similar vernacular where brutality, elegance and maybe some of the gloomed-over grooves of Morta Skuld‘s ‘As Humanity Fades‘ suggest a fixation upon the cross-hatched scene of that era where the increasingly competitive nature of the music began to trade in a global standard rather than a scene-based idiosyncrasy. Most of this’d been directly referenced by Pustilence in press materials as they honed in on a reasonable description of the style brough on their first EP (‘The Birth Of The Beginning Before The Inception Of The End‘, 2020), which I’d reviewed favorably a couple of years back.
The gist of the action here for folks already in the know is that this debut should immediately appeal to those who appreciate the prime ‘old school’ death metal standards upheld by groups like Faceless Burial and Skeletal Remains (among others) today without necessarily having developed that level of personality or refinement just yet. That said it is an advanced start, basically a perfect introductory showcase for a band who are already meant to be taken seriously. Their choices from the greater ‘geist of death metal amount for an unrelenting assault of riffcraft in dynamic flux wherein chest-bursting, face-clawing vomited aggression inevitably sinks into wide grooves but never kills the momentum of their assault. Opener “Aspirants of Intemperance” pulls us in every direction within its chaotic gather but never hits upon dry-bones chug or any sort of thoughtless mosh metal tactic while keeping the ideas flowing. In fact they’ve found a way to segue directly into the next piece, the hail of fire that is “Profound Assiduity”, without missing a beat. The level of composition here is what I’d describe as the restless variations-in-a-row style of riff-obsessed writing which fixates on exploring their balance of brutally moshable riffs at a prog-death level of phrase with some of the wailing, thrashing leads that’d held over from the peak of the late 80’s. Expect the hammer to fall, the riffs to repeat for more than two measures, and the vocalist to growly deep into the gravitas as the center of the recording.
While most of the songs on ‘Beliefs of Dead Stargazers and Soothsayers‘ run about ~4-5 minutes long the few that hit closer to the six minute mark tend to be their most memorable and detailed. Even if “Concupiscence” might kick off serious faced about its chugging grooves that really is to the standard I’ve belabored here thus far, especially as the mutated rock solo and headier guitar effects factor into the final third of the song. It isn’t necessarily “meat and potatoes” stuff, there is a level of finesse which steps beyond the norm across the board in terms of performance and guitar arrangements but that song particularly reads like a contender yanked directly from the age of groups like Disincarnate while also featuring a unique approach to its vocals.
For an eleven song record there are eight proper death metal pieces which dominate the landscape alongside two interludes and an outro which add up to about six minutes of the ~46 minute total, nothing too intrusive beyond providing a couple of full-stops as the album builds momentum and calls it back a couple of times. The most jarring interruption comes with “Iliad to the Contorted Apprehension” a dark sci-fi feeling interlude which spaces the thrill of “Concupiscence” and one of the better songs overall, “Outwith the Plains of Ultimatum“. From my point of view those two songs are the character of the album’s attack and its adventurous side in an ~11 minute nutshell so, I didn’t necessarily get that they were separated beyond the album going for a three acts rather than two sides for its presentation. Each of the interludes created a small issue with the running order, nothing too brutally deleterious but interruptive enough that it was worth mentioning.
As we work towards Side B the full listen leans into the simpler hammered-at grooves of the first three pieces in introduction and works up effective but not outwardly technical riff-fests where they can sprawl out a little bit more and hit a couple of longer-winded phrases. “Pishogue Thaumaturge” sets the overall standard highest and the two songs which follow focus on somewhat tuneful grooves, riff-focused pieces which avoid any too critically dense compaction of riff ideas overall with “Extirpated Conquest” providing a strong mirror to the experience offered by “Concupiscence”. On paper it might all sound like it fires off a standard salvo but in motion Pustilence impress with the substantive value of their riff and general rhythmic craft, knowing when to grind at a firestorm pace and when to pull back to a rolling death metal tank. The full listen has a few hiccups here and there in terms of pacing but the atmospheric stuff that does interject helps build an identity for the band beyond the guitarists clear knack for the death metal riff and the volcanic, shredding lead. The appeal of this record is uncomplicated, a pure death metal experience held to a certain ideal from a set of musician who know the anatomy of a great mid-90’s death metal record to an extremely precise degree yet manage to produce a record that persists with a personal touch. One of the very best death metal releases in the first half of the year. A high recommendation.
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