Hailing from the Czech Republic, Pandemia is a bit like the death metal equivalent of Everybody Loves Raymond; it’s been around a while appeared alongside plenty of important things, but you’ve never met anyone who really knows much about it. Maybe you’ve run across it once and stuck around for a few minutes, but something else caught your attention pretty quickly. While not renown in the traditional sense, there are people out there that care about and listen to Pandemia, just as, I assume, there were at one point people who would stop channel surfing when Ray Romano popped up on their CRT. And for that reason, At the Gates of Nihilism is worthy of review; not because of its expected impact or artistic statement, but because hey, nothing else is on. Plop your ass on the couch and eat some pretzels.
“Rotting in Mold” and “Nihilistic Age” kick off At the Gates of Nihilism in the fashion of its titular truncation – that is to say, with björiffs and ample mid-range screaming. Jiří Krs delivers excellent vocals throughout the album, gravelly and grisly but remarkably intelligible; the drawback to this being that the lyrics aren’t quite up to par, but more in the double bogie range. Listening to him yell “Godless Biiitch!” and “Waaaaarmongeeeeeer” gets old faster than brie left out in a minefield, and by the end of the album you’re kind of glad he’s put a sock in it.
Luckily, when Jiří’s larynx still themselves the other instruments fill in, and everything’s in place. The guitars are tight and aggressive, and the drums hold down grooves and blast beats with ease, just don’t expect anything spectacular. Stylistically, At the Gates of Nihilism is no black sheep. The aforementioned At the Gates influence runs deep, and not a song goes by where it doesn’t flare up, but there are a few other bands that get riff-checked. “Warmonger” shoots for an early-2000s Amon Amarth sound and largely succeeds, while “Cult of God” has a bit of Decapitation in it. Varied they are not, but Pandemia know their way around death metal.
Amongst the pretty square numbers are a few standout songs and a few stinkers. “Killed” focuses on a main riff that’s just unimaginably uninteresting, and “Godless Bitch” and “Harlots of War” are guaranteed to be skipped over after your first listen through. After “Harlots of War,” “Zyklon B” takes a decided turn for the better, but it doesn’t quite save the album. Its riffing is by far the album’s best, and the bass and piano dominated bridge shakes up an album that was apparently devoid of both instruments beforehand. The aforementioned “Rotting in Mold” and “Warmonger” aren’t too shabby either, but the amount of blandness in between them isn’t worth wading through.
If Pandemia are only at the gates, I’m all the way on the other side. This kind of corny war metal is about as compelling as a cinderblock and half as aesthetically pleasing. It’s not heavy enough to be entertaining just because of brutality, the riffs and melodies aren’t good enough to get stuck in your head, and overall it’s just bland enough to make Greek yogurt look edgy. Unless you’re fifteen, easily upset by lack of mayonnaise, and have a good start on your bayonet collection, this isn’t the album for you.