Vale of Pnath – Between the Worlds of Life and Death Review

When a band leaves a long time between releases, the questions of whether, how much, and in which direction their sound will have evolved hang portentously. Between the Worlds of Life and Death, Vale of Pnath’s third LP, comes almost eight full years after sophomore II, and five years after their last EP, Accursed. That latter release provided at least a clue to the direction the originally bonafide tech-death crew were set to go in, and Between the Worlds of Life and Death stays true to this promise. The music is far more blackened, and reaches further into the realms of riffy, symphonic deathcore, yet still with a foot firmly planted in the tech-death camp from which they first came forth. The band itself also now sees an entirely revised lineup, guitarist Vance Valenzuela the only surviving original member, and numerous guest artists also performing solos and cello across this record. The wait has made many hungry for what this iteration has to serve. How does it satisfy?

Vale of Pnath have never been a stranger to dramatics, but here theatricality is immediate and unignorable. Opening with over two minutes of pure orchestral apprehension (“The Forgotten Path”), and reprising again just before the close (“Echoes of the Past”),1 the presence of strings never fully evaporates from the album, and the music is rife with sweeping, surging, symphonics. As the compositions interweave this with fast, technical melodic extreme metal, the effect is something like Shadow of Intent playing tech-death, the abiding comparison to Inferi now perhaps more apt, and comparisons to The Black Dahlia Murder less apt than ever before. If that turns you off, don’t worry, there’s nary a breakdown to be found on Between the Worlds of Life and Death. What the album is, however, is much more atmospheric, and vastly more accessible. Snappier songs, strong melodies, and a satisfying bite that comes from marrying the erratic fluidity of tech-death with the vicious, easy punch of blackened deathcore.

It’s these powerful melodic themes, and their elevation through the medium of extremity, that make this album as good as it is. Scale-climbing guitars and orchestra lurk behind the fray, their ebbing, flowing presence adding urgency to these manifestly savage passages. Thus, they make more potent and pathetic those moments when a refrain breaks free, to dominate in a bubbling. crooning solo (“Soul Offering,” “Shadow,”), or spiralling, mournful repetition (“Uncertain Tomorrow,” “Beneath Ashen Skies”). Throughout, the layers of interchanging melodic source—guitar, string, synth—create a burning intensity that never stops moving, reaching mini apexes in sudden bursts of piano (“Soul Offering”), peaks of ascending tremolo (“Shadow,” “Beneath Ashen Skies”), and echoing, drawling refrains (“No Return, No Regret,” “Burning Light”). Shifting rhythms, from a buzz of frenzied blastbeats, rollovers so rapid they threaten to trip over one another as the tempo changes, and a steady, insistent heartbeat accentuate neck-snapping grooves created from the pulsing, in-and-out melodic strains with panache—see “Shadow,” and “Burning Light” especially.

Vale of Pnath wisely pull back from total melodrama, and supplement their orchestral, extreme metal mélange with strange, but strangely good groovy elements of synth. It makes the package as a whole feel slick and somewhat novel. The step-up in production—the sound no longer crushed to total oblivion with a DR of 7,2 certainly helps, as the layers of instrumentation are actually audible. And yet, it seems clear that the band are not showing their full hand here. The areas of compositional serendipity are apt to sweep you up in exhilaration at the meeting of theatrical melody and brutal execution (“Shadow,” “Beneath Ashen Skies,” “Burning Light”) so that it can be easy to miss the forest for the trees. Nothing is quite as powerful as it feels like it ought to be, and most songs release tension with relative anticlimax, given the themes they tease. And so after such a long wait, that hunger remains somewhat, naggingly, unsatisfied.

In making their return, Vale of Pnath have further evolved their sound, and this version is meaner, slicker, and more dramatic than ever. Not only those following the band, but fans of tech-death of all stripes will find a lot to like here. Only time will tell how Between the Worlds… changes their trajectory .

Rating: Good
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Willowtip
Websites: Bandcamp | Facebook
Releases Worldwide:
May 24th, 2024

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Both instrumentals were composed by Wayne Ingram of Wilderun, so if the rest of this album isn’t your thing, maybe just give those a whirl.
  2. Though it’s worth noting that all songs but an interlude score 6.
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