North America is pretty good at mixing things together. We have ice cream pizza, solving what once was a pressing binary question – “ice cream or pizza first?” – with Option C: both! Can’t decide whether you want hard or soft shells, mild or fire-hose diarrhea, burritos or tacos? Taco Bell’s got your back; throw it all in a wrap and you can have all of those things in one cheap, delicious, and convenient package. Want to give the illusion of eating right but not lose a single ounce? High calorie salad dressing is your friend. Want to hear a bunch of metal bands you probably like chopped up and thrown together in some sort of audial stir fry? The Revenge-y titled Hope Misery Death is here, it’s Pestifere, and now I’m going to write about it.
While the whole “defying genre classification” deal the press release pushed is about as original and convincing as getting horrendous piercings, dying your hair blue, and saying you’re smashing beauty standards, Pestifere do their best to bring various elements of metal together successfully in their own way. At base, Hope Misery Death is melodic black metal; you’ll hear a firm backbone of Storm of the Light’s Bane and newer Watain. Also included are plenty of references to Opeth’s stuff both light and heavy, along with the thrashy nature of a band like Aura Noir. Many riffs remind me of Blasphemer’s stint in Mayhem as well, and Dawn’s Slaughtersun seems to have influenced some of the melodies too.
While the “Night’s Blood” influence initially sounds a bit overbearing, “Cormorant Tree” sees Pestifere swiftly move to graze in other influential pastures by bringing in some good guitar work that could’ve appeared on Wolf’s Lair Abyss and a solo that reminded me of the “Waters of Ain” conclusion, all merged together in such a way as to not sound jarring. Mid-album interlude “Dispirit” and outro “To Those Who Lost Their Home” happily remind me of Heritage and the pleasant acoustic bits on the last Agalloch record in their prettiness, respectively. “Mine is a Strange Prison” begins on what sounds like an Aura Noir played by Toxic Holocaust and transitions oddly well to a stomping riff that reminds me of Watain with a touch of Inquisition. Following this, Pestifere goes full-on melo-death a la In Flames with hints of Dissection, and the song is fairly well-done and enjoyable overall, easily the best song on the record.
Unfortunately, this is a record that’s really good on your first few listens, but you’ll come to the realization fairly quickly that Pestifere’s sound here is very much the sum of its parts, which are obvious cues and stylistic elements from other bands mashed together and performed adequately. You’ll notice I used “remind” and its variants a lot above, and that’s not due to a stunted lexicon; rather, I simply spent most of my time being reminded of the better bands whose musical “forms” Pestifere merely participated in, albeit competently enough. Second-rate participation in good things was why Plato disliked artists, and if he was alive today he wouldn’t be too enthused about this record. Take “Peregrine’s Timbre” for example: it has an extended midsection that may as well have been a Ghost Reveries outtake, and what follows narrowly avoids copyright infringement by speeding up the part of “Ghost of Perdition” that precedes Peter Lindgren’s solo. “Suffer the Day” sounds like a less interesting Pestilential Shadows getting jiggy with a less compelling Storm of the Light’s Bane, winding up mediocre overall. Then there’s “Tomb of Monumental Decay” and its bland, overextended ending, sounding like the Opeth strumming referenced above merged with toothless black metal. It’s definitely the sum of its parts, but said parts are irritatingly inferior versions of other sounds.
Pestifere is clearly a talented band, but their talents are tragically squandered by emulating better bands. They did well with production, keeping everything audible, pleasant, and not too loud except for the ride cymbal, which sounds absolutely terrible. On the first few listens, this all sounds very impressive due to how much is brought into the mix, and I’ll admit to being quite a fan during my first few spins. Around listen number five though, the cracks start to show; “where did I hear this before?” was a question I found myself repeatedly asking instead of enjoying the music, and the answers were generally present herein. Replay value was sadly all but annihilated thanks to this, and it’s a real shame because Pestifere can produce some good moments. It’s just really hard to care about said moments when you’ve heard most if not all of them done better elsewhere already. In short, Hope Misery Death is Competent Unfocused Forgettable.