Temple Nightside – Pillars of Damnation Review

Readers of this site will not find it surprising when I say that I love blackened death metal of the chaotic and brutal variety, with groups like Impiety, Archgoat, and Angelcorpse being some of my favorites. In the last decade, however, a new strain of blackened death metal came to prominence that seemed to prioritize atmosphere and uneasiness above all else. Some of the more notable bands in this category are Portal, Abyssal, and Teitanblood—groups whose work I respect, even if it doesn’t resonate with me as deeply. When I grabbed Pillars of Damnation, the fourth album by Australia’s Temple Nightside, I had no idea what strain of blackened death metal it would be. I think I’ve heard the band’s name dropped before, but I certainly hadn’t heard any of their music. It turns out that may have been a massive oversight on my part, because Pillars is a stellar album that manages to combine a dense atmosphere with those killer riffs we all love so much.

Nightside’s ability to do so is no accident. Formed in 2010, the group consists of current and former members from many notable Australian and New Zealand bands, including Grave Upheaval, Diocletian, Nazxul, Ulcerate, and Vassafor, to name but a few. The leader of this seasoned crew seems to be guitarist and vocalist “IV,” perhaps most notable for his work in Austere and Ill Omen. With so much experience, it’s not surprising that Nightside manage to make their style work so well. The band play blackened death metal of the sort that people used to love calling “cavernous,” that impossibly heavy variant where everything sounds utterly subterranean. As such Pillars is quite a thick and oppressive album, with most of these eight tracks propelled by deep and groaning tremolos that sound like Father Befouled or Cruciamentum down-tuned to the deepest depths of R’lyeh. The vocals consist of guttural rasps that are soaked in reverb, while the crushing and stuffy production somehow still allows the riffs to be heard in all their blackened glory.

It’s these riffs that are the band’s most notable aspect. Whereas some “cavernous” bands seem content to merely relish their atmosphere, Nightside not only write some terrific riffs, they also know how to make great songs out of them. Opener “Contagion of Heresy” is a perfect example, storming forth on deep miasmic tremolos that soon give way to a tangled progression before a ringing melody closes it all out. Second track “Death Eucharist” shows the band flexing their compositional skills even further, with its colossal marching rhythm collapsing into a massive doom segment that’s embellished by subtle choirs and funereal clean picking, before that marching rhythm returns for a grand finish.

Yet what really makes Pillars succeed is its variety. Whereas several songs feel relatively straightforward, “Morose Triumphalis” and “In Absentia” feature churning tremolos, a faster pace, and songwriting that’s less immediately accessible. On another album tracks like this might feel inessential, here they offer a level of depth that rewards repeat listens. Late highlight “Blood Cathedral” provides a more direct assault and is thus one of my favorite tracks, with a swashbuckling main riff that sounds like it was culled from the treasure hold of Cauldron Black Ram’s pirate ship. Yet it’s “The Carrion Veil” and closer “Damnation” that offer the most variety, with both tracks slowing things to funeral doom levels. The songs are crawling horrors that combine strained guitars and morose whispers in a way that evokes the best of Beherit, Disembowelment, and Esoteric. Sadly “Damnation” takes it a little too far, with its nine-minute runtime feeling overly repetitive, even if the ritualistic drumming in its final passage serves as a satisfying coda for the album. Fortunately, beyond that there’s little to complain about here. I guess the production could be a little clearer, but I’m not sure that would allow the atmosphere to be maintained.

In all, Pillars of Damnation is an awesome album in every sense. While featuring a dense atmosphere in the vein of many blackened death groups from the last decade, the band manage to stand out with prominent riffs that are both terrific and arranged into great songs. Temple Nightside have delivered something truly special here, something which I’m sure I’ll be remembering come list season and which will no doubt appeal to fans of Grave Miasma, Musmahhu, Dead Congregation, or anyone in the market for a killer blackened death metal opus.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Iron Bonehead Productions
Websites: templenightside.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/templenightsidenecromancy
Releases Worldwide: August 7th, 2020

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