March already, and the year has seen very little action in the arena of brutality. Hell, except for Uncreation‘s debut, the closest thing to a good brutal death metal release has been Ion. Not to bemoan Portal‘s achievement, but there’s death metal for straining your sanity, and then there’s death metal for straining your neck. Pestilent Reign traffick in the latter, channeling a few of the most beloved tech and brutal death metal acts out there into their tight eight-song debut. Riffs abound; snares are pummeled, amps are cranked, throats are scorched, the whole eight-point-two meters fed through. It’s brutal enough – but is it enough?
Pestilent Reign do their influences justice, cracking out songs with the callous brutality of Dying Fetus and the rough tonal sensibility of Psycroptic. The riffs may not be sixteen-bar-long Joe Haley originals, but the hardcore energy is even stronger here, making for an energetic if not mind-boggling delivery. “Cleanse the Flesh” slings between John Gallagher-approved mosh fodder and riffs that woudn’t have been out of place on Ob(Servant), while “Gutter’s Filth” goes for Psycroptic form, opening with an eight-bar riff showing off an impressive balance between chugs, scrapes, and tapping. Fretboard frenetics give way to a menacing chord progression and a couple of brutal breakdowns in the Fetus style.
Levels of bullshit remain low across Pyres; performances are tight all around but not flashy, channeling a less virtuosic Psycroptic – vocalist “Chris” does a double-take inducing Jason Peppiatt impression, while the drums are pummeling in the thrashy Tasmanian fashion. The sound is stripped down, with sparse but effective leads and solos. Hell, even the band’s sardonic pick of samples get good mileage, particularly the anti-death metal rant of “Zealot,” which precedes the album’s best lead – a real highlight.
The only issue with Pestilent Reign‘s approach comes when you consider them next to the bands they sound the most like. They simply aren’t as adventurous as Psycroptic or as committed to obscenity as Dying Fetus, and the middle of the road they tread here won’t amaze anyone who has heard solid brutal death like this before. Sometimes a little bit of bullshit can liven things up, and Pyres can feel too constructed at times; the band seem hesitant to try anything too ambitious and save their most impressive riffing for the last few songs. Much like Abnormality, these guys have their craft down to a science but aren’t expanding upon the work of their heroes. There’s drama missing from this album, and despite solid riffs all around, there’s no killer feature that will keep listeners craving repeat plays.
Pyres ends up as good as it could be – an album that doesn’t take risks but doesn’t disappoint. A cautious debut, perhaps, but one from a band with an excellent grasp of writing and performance. A heavier, more extreme, or more adventurous Pestilent Reign sophomore LP would be almost sure to take year-end lists by storm, especially with a less brickwalled production. Pyres signals a future burning bright for this band, and if they merely stray a bit from the straight and narrow, they’ll find an identity and a following. Anyone disappointed by the current deluge of doom and dearth of death that 2018 has offered is sure to get their money’s worth out of this one.