Pestis Cultus – Pestis Cultus Review

Raw black metal is not typically my thing. I like my black atmospheric or symphonic, as a rule. Normally, if you’re after the lo-fi stuff, you’d wanna talk to Messrs of Doom and in Muzaka. But, that said, I rather enjoyed my time with Funeral Fullmoon, so here I am, back in the dark, icy depths of … well, this time, Western Australia. Perth’s Pestis Cultus have been knocking around since 2016, when they went by the name Snorri. After a couple of demos and a split with Bosnia’s Vetëvrakh in 2016 and 2017, however, the trio went on a brief hiatus, returning now under the new moniker of Pestis Cultus and ready to drop their debut. So, what’s in a name?

Clocking in at just 30 minutes, Pestis Cultus is a short, sharp explosion of evil. Like poor, murdered Sadako Yamamura in Japanese horror film Ring, Pestis Cultus lurches and claws its way toward you in unpredictable fits and starts. With maniacal blastbeats, a dirty and unstoppable bass rhythm and squealing electronics behind him, guitarist Old’s skirling tremolos cavort through the frozen wastes. Wild tempo changes carry us from Venom levels of abandon (“Black Mass”) through Darkthrone’s feral fury into (“Black Tongue Hymn”) and through a raw, almost-symphonic grandeur (“Abel de la Rue”), all accompanied by hideously croaky, rasping shrieks (also courtesy of Old). While the Australians’ debut is all feral fury and unrestrained horror, it delivers this in an ever shifting form.

Those sudden tempo changes are what prevents Pestis Cultus from being just another raw, second-wave imitation. The schizophrenic madness of the early sections of “To the Old Ruins” see furious tremolos riffs do battle with effects-laden, fractured vocals, which suddenly give way to crushing, blackened doom, which in turns falls away to something that almost resembles a bass groove for a few eyebrow-raising seconds. A similar tale is told on “Into the Endless Darkness,” as shrieking tremolos fall off a cliff into the chunky opening of “Black Mass.” By the middle section of that track however, a punky, nonchalance appears, which stands in stark contrast to the mid-tempo blackened fury of “Cursed.” Album highlight “Black Tongue Hymn” is all irrepressible aggression but even there, Pestis Cultus mix up things, dropping down into a brief acoustic folk passage, before B.H.’s pounding drums re-enter the fray, together with a surprisingly delicate melody.

Although short, there is a lot to digest on Pestis Cultus. The sound these Australians – aided by the mastering of Henri Sorvali of Moonsorrow and Finntroll fame – have chosen is deliberately harsh and raw, which somewhat masks (at least on my first few listens, while working at the same time) the subtleties here. As the DR9 suggests, however, the sound is anything but lo-fi. A record of surprising sonic depths is cloaked in a ragged, second-wave cloak, exemplified by the album’s longest cut “H.H.L.,” which has an almost blackened death vibe straight out the gates, before burbling electronica signals a descent into chaos and maelstrom. This stylistic choice does have its drawbacks, however, as the drums sometimes get lost in the mix, fading to indistinct thumping murkiness, and similarly the bass goes walkabout on occasion. This is a fleeting issue, however, rather than one which plagues Pestis Cultus’ debut as a whole. There is little fat on the album’s bones, although I can’t help but think that the keening static of instrumental opener “Lazarus” could have been halved in length, while the rather pointless synth outro “Apocrypha” lessens the impact of the outstanding penultimate track, “To the Old Ruins.”

While borrowing many of the accoutrements of second wave black metal, Pestis Cultus have delivered a surprisingly intricate debut, showing a willingness and ability to experiment. The willingness to play with brief melodic leads, offering momentary respite from the storm (“Black Mass”) or doomy Sabbathian passages that rapidly accelerate back into raging tempests (“Abel de la Rue”) make for breathless half hour. The satanic themes of Pestis Cultus may be well trodden but the Australian trio bring something a little fresher to the table. The production choices limit the impact of some of this experimentation, however, and for me a slightly richer sound could have made a big difference. That said, the record grew on me with every listen and, if this review were not already woefully late, I would be tempted to give it another couple of days and a few more spins to see if that could get it an extra half point.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Signal Rex
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: February 12th, 2021

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