Pile of Priests – Pile of Priests Review

The manic death metal binge continues unabated at the stately House ov Steel. Today’s subject is the second album by Denver’s death metal adventurers, Pile of Priests. Having explored a fairly conventional old school death metal approach on their 2015 Void of Enlightenment debut, the band decided to go in a more proggy direction for their eponymous sophomore outing. Apparently a concept album, it’s replete with dramatic narration, a plethora of moods, a great deal of technical finesse and a large amount of hooky hooks. At times the material cuts close to Edge of Sanity’s immortal Crimson in its theatrics and ambition, with elements of late era Death peppering the material liberally. The band never reaches the lofty heights of these aforementioned acts, but they surely go all in and shoot for the heavens nonetheless.

After a surprisingly immersive piano-led intro that sets all kinds of dark moods, the cards are slammed down hard on the table with “The Aversion.” It’s an instantly likable tune with wild, corkscrewing riffs, a rowdy vibe and killer death vox courtesy of Evan Salvador. The overall mood reminds me of Testimony of the Ancients era Pestilence, with a bit of Cannibal Corpse humping the leg of an unfortunate Ancient.1 The mixture gives the song an off-kilter, frenetic charm that’s hard to resist and leaves you wanting to hear more. “Death of the Paragon” leads off with heavily theatrical narration laid over some mood building music which soon gives way to old school thrashing and bashing. This in turn leads to a rollicking mid-paced section where one nifty riff replaces another, ensuring your attention remains fixed on the goings on. Throughout it all the bubbling, rumbling bass-work by Patrick Leyn recalls the salad days of Atheist and Cynic and ups the tech factor without becoming distracting.

The band is adept at balancing straight up death metal, tasteful technical showboating, and light prog experimentation without bogging things down or draining the heaviness and vitality out of the songs. “Exile Unto Divination” is like a mash-up of Amon Amarth and Marduk, with battle riffs jostling icy trems for pole position with early days In Flames guitar wankery stuffed in the gaps, while “Deus Delenda Est” is a rip-roaring ride through riff-driven death crammed full of traditional metal influences. The stunning guitar-work on the final third of “Bloodstained Citadel” is another big moment sure to impress, and the song is no slouch either. There are some rough spots though. I’m not enamored with the guest vocals by Adrienne Cowan (Seven Spires, Winds of Plague) on “Conjunction of Souls,” as her death rasps feel too Arch Enemy-esque and cheesy, pulling me out of the song’s mood. Closer “The Restitution” is interesting but too long at 8:37, and Cowan’s death vocals are again a letdown. Her cleans however are very good, approaching Amy Lee levels of gothy pathos. Another issue is the narration element. It’s somewhat overused across the album, at times becoming distracting and a bit silly.

Pile of Priests works because it’s such a gloriously guitar-driven, riff-tastic album. Evan Salvador and Daryl Martin let it all hang out, hurling copious tasty leads and wild solos at the listener, expecting you to make sense of it all like so much green code in The Matrix. The enormous bass presence of Patrick Leyn is a major boon. His playing is all over the place but never becomes a distraction, and his bass fills are righteous. Sar Isatum drummer Evan Knight also impresses, keeping up with his peers and delivering an insanely tight, technical performance that helps punch the material through to the next level. This is a highly talented crew from top to bottom and they make their brand of death metal more fun than a barrel full of preachers.2 Best of all, at 43 minutes, the album flies by quite effortlessly. Could a few songs be tightened up? Sure, but it’s not a derailing factor on an album so chock full of riffitude and attitude.

Pile of Priests made the switch from engaging old school death to something more ambitious and epic, and I’m quickly becoming a fan of what these clergy stackers deliver. If you want a death platter with more riffs than the Catholic Church has reasons to judge you, this is your golden indulgence. Get thee to a nunnery for the next round of pontiff piling and remember to tithe your waiters.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Extreme Metal Music
Websites: pileofpriests1.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/pileofpriests
Releases Worldwide: May 22nd, 2020

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Calfgrinder!
  2. Which, upon reflection, wouldn’t be much fun at all.
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