Artist: Pestilent Hex
Album Title: The Ashen Abhorrence
Label: Debemur Morti Productions
Date of Release: 8 July 2022
Melodic black metal and I have always been keen bedfellows, so the opportunity to check out a debut album from a new player in the scene was too tempting an offer to pass up. In fact, I’ve been keeping an eye open for this album from Pestilent Hex since it was announced a while back and became more interested upon hearing the first single and opening track, ‘The Ashen Abhorrence’ a month or so ago.
The band Pestilent Hex hail from Finland, an entity comprised of just two musicians. Better known for their work in other genres, namely death and doom metal, the duo features L. Oathe (Lauri ‘LL’ Laaksonen of Desolate Shrine fame), who handles all of the instrumentation alongside vocalist and lyricist M. Malignant (Matti ‘MM’ Mäkelä of Corpsessed, Tyranny, ex-Wormphlegm and many others besides). This isn’t a rarity within black metal circles, but it never ceases to impress me how just two people can create such proficient and quality music. ‘The Ashen Abhorrence’ is no different in this regard either, as it’s a hugely solid album, particularly given that it is a debut release from Pestilent Hex.
The modus operandi of this Finnish duo becomes clear almost immediately that the album begins. ‘The Ashen Abhorrence’ is very much cut from the cloth of symphonic, melodic black metal in the style that was seemingly everywhere in the mid-late 90s. It’s the style that, for the most part, got me into the genre and gave me much enjoyment and aural gratification. The blend of aggressive and evil-sounding music with a softer underbelly of well-placed melody was like catnip to me, and I plundered as much of the scene as I possibly could in my late teens and early 20s. To hear that this style of music is undergoing something of a revival is wonderful as far as I’m concerned.
As with everything, though, there are numerous ways that something can be viewed. My delight could just as easily see others rolling their eyes and shrugging their shoulders, unhappy that a style of music is making a comeback rather than new bands pushing the envelope just that little bit further and offering an original sound. Depending on which side of the fence you sit, this review will either leave you cold or it might point you in the direction of the next album on your wish list. I sit firmly on the latter, as if you didn’t already know that.
Comprised of six tracks, ‘The Ashen Abhorrence’ takes the listener on a 42-minute ride that reminds me of why I fell for the charms of bands like Obtained Enslavement, early Emperor, Dimmu Borgir, Abigor and many, many others. It demonstrates a really excellent and well thought out blend of extreme metal alongside plenty of rich, dark atmosphere, melody, and a sense of grandiosity.
The title track wastes no time in hitting the ground running, featuring blast beats and a malevolent-sounding fast-picked riffs. It is all laced in an opulent gown of orchestration, where tinkling keys and bold organs emerge alongside layers of synths to add a touch of Gothic splendour to the composition. The vocals are full-on nasty, with plenty of high-pitched shrieks, accented by some deep and gruesome growls. But the changes of pace, from all-out speed to more a more measured mid-tempo, alongside occasional deviations into quieter moments creates a variety to the composition that is then further enhanced by the delicate melodic sensibilities of the song.
It’s a great opening but, if anything, ‘Chapter II: ‘Nature Of The Spirit’ is even better. Again, it opens with real intent, driving forward with blast beats and long, tortured growls of anger. If anyone was under the impression that the music of Pestilent Hex wasn’t particularly extreme because of their melodic tendencies, should think again. But with that said, this second track is easily the most immediate and melodic of the entire lot – either that or the chosen melodies just resonate with me most strongly. I love the way that the song shifts effortlessly from all-out attack to epic grandeur in the blink of an eye, offering fantastic entertainment in either guise. There’s even space within the composition for some spoken-word lyrics, followed by the kind of piano tinkling that so beguiled me on Dimmu Borgir’s ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’ record all those years ago.
The impossibly difficult to pronounce ‘Chapter III: ‘Mephistophelean Liaison’ comes next, and it features plenty of those classic frostbitten staccato riffs that I latch on to with eagerness. The song also feels like it is both the most grandiose and the heaviest at the same time, which is some feat in itself. The mid-song breather that sees clean guitars lay out a delicate solo melody is quickly seized upon, only to build into something far heavier and really rather striking, especially when the lead guitar lines sneak up on you in the latter stages.
If you were wondering about the presence of the ubiquitous instrumental workout, then wonder no longer as ‘Chapter IV: Interlude – ‘Mists Of Oneiros’ offers a two-minute respite from the black metal attack. If there was a weaker moment to be heard on ‘The Ashen Abhorrence’, this is it. It is incredibly dark and theatrical, but it doesn’t do an awful lot for me if I’m totally honest.
Never fear though, because we are back on track quickly with the delightfully named ‘Chapter V: ‘Old Hag’, which thrusts us straight back into the multi-layered melodic, symphonic black metal amphitheatre, albeit in a slightly more upbeat and playful manner, as the melodies seem to dance around with a little more whimsy unless I am very much mistaken.
The final track is ‘Chapter VI: ‘Banishment’, the longest of the record at nearly nine minutes in length. It uses this time to lay down an impressively varied and nuanced track, that’s part twisted malevolence, part thunderous aggression, and part majestic opus. And the final stages are glorious affair, where the pace is slowed, the melody is cranked up a notch, and we’re treated to a truly majestic final act, the kind of crescendo that’s befitting of such a great album.
Death metal stalwarts they may be but here, the two talented Finns of L. Oathe and M. Malignant have come together to create a masterful collection of melodic and symphonic black metal that recalls the mid-late 90s perfectly and provides me with a high level of consistent entertainment throughout. It may not be the most original or ground-breaking record you’ll ever hear, but I simply don’t care. When the final product is this impressive and enjoyable, originality be damned I say.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%
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