Pestilent Hex – The Ashen Abhorrence Review

Pestilent Hex - The Ashen Abhorrence 01Smear on your corpse paint and sharpen up your spiked wristband, we’re setting the Way-Black Machine to 1990’s Oslo. Pestilent Hex is a two-man Finnish passion project that pays serious homage to the second wave of Norwegian black metal. The band remarkably wraps their sound in a cloak of black lace and gothic misery. They clearly love the bands of this era and pay homage to their heroes with detailed fervor. Pestilent Hex spent nearly five years writing and recording The Ashen Abhorrence. After pouring their little black hearts out for so long, is this a worthy tribute to the emperors of yore or will it be lost in the tomb of the unknown black metal musician along with so many similar side projects?

I picked up this promo just before a 20-hour train trip across the Dakotas and Montana. I had hoped that it would be the perfect soundtrack to the wide-open landscapes and majestic mountains we’d cross. Instead, I was whisked away to a decaying European castle where cursed figures huddled in the shadows. The swirling riffs, rapid blasts and symphonic keyboards were unmistakably the work of Northerners ready to bare their souls raw in gothic melodrama. Once I shifted my expectations, it was fun to see where things would go. The title track and album opener wastes no time dragging you across the misty fjords of time with Emperor-like riffs that twist like black serpents. The vocals tear into the mix with blood-curdling shrieks and guttural groans that play out like a Hammer horror film. The song builds to an epic climax filled with a grandiose church organ, dark piano arpeggios and lush string arrangements that are equal parts Arcturus and Edvard Grieg.

For all its drama and intrigue, only half of The Ashen Abhorrence has truly memorable songs. “Nature of the Spirit,” is an absolute burner that kicks off with a Satyricon-inspired rot-n-roll groove. It’s a malevolent toe-tapper that has a little bit of something for everyone without losing its cohesion or collapsing under its ambition. It’s one of the better black metal tunes I’ve heard lately and a mini adventure unto itself. “The Old Hag,” not only has a fun title but also has a different vibe to it. It starts heavy on the menace but slows into a lovely acoustic passage that shows the band is capable of more than shrieks and blasts. While the song peaks early, it crescendos to the finish with epic tremolo picking and soaring wails that live up to its name. The album runs 43 minutes but contains only six tracks including the moody but forgettable instrumental, “Mists of Oneiros.” I enjoy longer songs, especially when done well in this genre but I found my attention waning in places.

The album’s greatest strength is also its downfall. The Ashen Abhorrence succeeds in duplicating a very specific sound and style of black metal. Unfortunately, Pestilent Hex locks themselves in this tower without letting more of their own personality bleed through. Members L. Oathe and M. Malignant are in several Finnish death metal bands including Desolate Shrine, Corpessed, and Tyranny. It would have been fun to see how they might have blended those styles by adding the hooks and melody lines sorely missing in some of the songs here. The record itself sounds fantastic. The band clearly spent time getting all the elements balanced in the exceptionally dense mix. Never does any single instrument drown out the other or bleed into an inaudible mess as is often the risk with this type of music. Nor does it sound like it was recorded in a wind tunnel like the recent Black Cilice record. The band claims there is a storyline that ties all the songs together, but I have yet to decipher what exactly it is. For the most part it doesn’t feel like a concept album.

For fans of old skool black metal like Obtained Enslavement, Abigor and Dimmu Borgir, The Ashen Abhorrence is probably mandatory listening. It can be a fascinating tribute that blisters in places and meanders in others. Ultimately it languishes in its own lack of ideas. The band’s members are clearly talented and passionate individuals who have proven themselves in their other musical projects. I look forward to the next Pestilent Hex album to see if the band can grow beyond these limitations into something unique and powerful. I just hope it doesn’t take another five years.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
LabelDebemur Morti Productions |
Releases worldwide: July 8th, 2022

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