In the 14th century, the Black Death shaved roughly 20% of the world’s population off the map and your average medico della peste watched it happen. These plague doctors treated the disease when possible, but all the while bolstered their grim understanding of its contraction, its progression, and its corpses. Medico Peste tapped this horrific lineage with א: Tremendum et Fascinatio. Terrifying and entrancing indeed, the debut opened a festering wound in the hearts of listeners. With follow-up EP Herzogian Darkness, the Poles convincingly bolster a black-hearted résumé that is quickly becoming one to watch.
Whereas א burned slowly at times, Herzogian Darkness states its intent from the start. The distinctive riffs of its titular opener slither atop throbbing rhythmic compulsions, equal parts discomfiting and attractive. Thundering charges summon the spirit of Mgła, unabashed in influence but still capable of ripping limb from limb. At natural exhaust points, Medico Peste simply recede. A returning retinue of ambiance imparts Leviathan atonality, simultaneously depressing and consuming. Evil stalks the halls, a blighted spirit given form by Silencer’s vocals. He commands the music in much the same fashion as Mgła’s M, cunning, vile and evocative. The track teeters to a close after an oppressive yet balanced ten minutes as strong as any in Medico Peste’s entire career.
Though more well-lit than its predecessor, “Hallucinating Warmth and Bliss” does less with more. It bets on a pair of good cop, bad cop riffs that grow less effective as they wear on. Capped at three minutes, the track succeeds without reservation. Allow it to run to seven and its shine fades. Silencer’s afflicted cries and The Fall’s peppering drums and bass lines notably hold the song together as its threads start to fray. The direction is not a disaster, but its excess undermines its effectiveness. “Le Delire de Negation” finds Silencer in a tortured state, twisting himself into Cotard delusions for our enjoyment. Our mortal protagonist shows off his variety of drones, screams, and wails, sickened to the end. The finale arrives all too soon as Bauhaus cover “Stigmata Martyr” turns the oppressive atmosphere sideways with its black n’ roll vibes.
The beauty of the release comes not from its villainy alone, but from how wide of a net it casts. I could listen to its well-spun variety all day long. Despite featuring multiple live members of Mgła, the band avoids simply cloning M’s work. Silencer demonstrates a surprising range of ability, showing off vocal muscle without sacrificing clarity or character. His croaking persona on “Le Delire de Negation” elevates a relatively simple tune that would be lost with a weaker performance. E.V.T., Nefar, and Silencer deserve heaps of credit for their guitar-work, fashioning heavy layers of hate without the whole ever feeling too burdensome. Medico Peste’s production is considerably improved from א. At face value, the music sounds all the more scalding, but never at the sake of quality. Even layered on thick, the proceedings sound spacious and impactful.
Herzogian Darkness does exactly what an EP should, whetting your appetite with a 25-minute taste of future full-length horrors. The heights of “Herzogian Darkness;” the performance art of “Le Delire de Negation;” even the potential of “Hallucinating Warmth and Bliss;” all offer glimpses of a band capable of branching out past what א has taught us to expect. Enunciated strands of Deathspell Omega or Kriegsmaschine or Shining could indeed enhance their music. Yet Medico Peste should not feel obliged to shoehorn in extraneous influence. Their offerings already feel whole.