When a metal musician says he’s been thinking about death, it’s easy to dismiss this as a given. Like, yeah dude. It comes with the territory. You’re wearing a t-shirt with twelve skulls on it. But when Jason Barron talks about the low point that led to the creation of Pulchra Morte—meaning “beautiful death”—things sound more serious: “I was going through an extremely dark time in my personal life… severe depression… complete and total loss.” Barron, a veteran of the St. Louis, MO metal scene, recalls writing what would become the first song on Divina Autem Et Aniles. It was about an individual “composing his own epitaph, completely accepting his own failure, giving up.” Look, metal is built on the melodramatic. We talk a big game about Darkness and The End, but it’s important to acknowledge where the symbolism ends and the serious business of keeping ourselves well begins. More than once I’ve seen our own comment section get honest with their struggles and encourage one another, and I gotta say, that makes me proud. We turn to metal, indeed all music, for catharsis and emotional connection. It isn’t a replacement for actual therapy and human relationship, but it is a kind of medication in itself.
Thankfully for us, it seems hardship has resulted in Barron turning a wistful eye towards the crushing but cathartic 90s golden age of Peaceville Records and using his dark season as inspiration. He and his Pulchra Morte bandmates craft death doom in the style of Gothic-era Paradise Lost and Dance of December Souls Katatonia. Their pastiche is more or less on point with big, solemn riffs, course death growls and the oh-so-90s guitar tone. Especially successful in the latter category are the guitar leads in early highlight “Black Ritual” and album closer “When Legends Die.” Jeffrey Breden and former Eulogy member Jarrett Pritchard, who also produced Divina Autem Et Aniles, share axe duty and both turn in fine performances. The burly opening to “Black Ritual” is all echo-y head-nodding goodness while the lead on “When Legends Die” is so dour and stately, it could easily have sprung from the mind of Gregor Mackintosh.
While Divina Autem Et Aniles is clearly a love letter to days of death/doom gone by, the comparison is not one to one. For instance, one may notice by the time the first two songs have ended that spooky synths are no where to be found. Those wishing for a Gothic touch needn’t worry though, as “Soulstench” features a guest vocal performance by Heather Dykstra that is downright ghostly. String flourishes also appear courtesy of Naarah Strokosch, most strikingly on soft interlude “Ignis Et Tempestas” and as connective tissue between doom-y grooves on “Fire and Storm.” Further distinguishing them from the genre classics they reference, Pulchra Morte‘s modern production makes their take punchier. Combine this with a tendency to play slightly more up-tempo with beefier riffs, and you end up with a product less (delightfully) morose.
Which leads me to perhaps the biggest issue with Divina Autem Et Aniles. When we compare it, or any other throwback project, to the scene it’s aping, we’re not thinking of the merely good albums. We’re thinking of the transcendent classics. This may be unfair, but it’s how memory works. This album does not capture the Peaceville Three at the height of their gloomy powers. Similarly, Pulchra Morte know how to approximate that nostalgic guitar tone, but it’s still not the same as on Dance of December Souls or *bites knuckle* unghhh, Brave Murder Day. From a songwriting standpoint, the material here is uniformly good. Some, like “Fire and Storm” and “When Legends Die,” is great. But none of it will go on to define a genre. So Divina Autem Et Aniles is not a transcendent classic. Let’s focus on what it is, which is a very good album in its own right and a promising debut from longtime scene veterans.
It’s a sometimes unfortunate myth that an artist must suffer for inspiration. All that is truly required to make good art is close observation. Sometimes that means leaning into the hard times and turning them into impetus for positive creation. Barron and his bandmates have done that here. Divina Autem Et Aniles is packed with solid death doom and potential for growth. This is an album to add to any doom rotation and a band to keep tabs on going forward.
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Ceremonial Records
Websites: pulchramorte.bandcamp.com | pulchramorte.com | facebook.com/pulchramorte
Releases Worldwide: February 1st, 2019