At the Gates of Nihilism

There is definitely a time and place for no-frills death metal.  It can probably be argued that that style might be the last true take on the genre now that death metal has been splintered into the factions of overly complex posturing or equally heartless Incantation worship.  It’s hard to not judge a record nowadays by the notes heard over the motive that comes across in the presentation.  As much as those aforementioned trends go out of their way to sound exciting, the predictability they are prone to can unfortunately render the efforts as more hollow than the more basic death metal approach.  I first heard Pandemia on their first record Spreading the Message in 1999, when meat-and-potatoes death metal was still exciting.  While modern takes on death metal today have exhausted themselves to bloated extremes, I will admit that the tech boom of the late 90s and early 2000s cause me to not reach for that record again since its release and I’ve completely missed out on their records between it and At the Gates of Nihilism.  So given my hazy memory of their first album and now, have Pandemia progressed?  And did they ever need to?

I couldn’t tell you a song title from Spreading the Message right now if I wanted to, but I remember it sitting comfortably among my Disinter records and post Millennium Monstrosity material, and given the unapproachable nature of most death metal today, I kind of wanted to hear that sound again.  And with full-length number 5, I got what I wanted, right down to the 90s-era synth album intro and familiar themes of war.  They even have a song called “Killed.”  Doesn’t get much more bare-bones than that.

While it’s clearly a throwback record, it feels more genuine than the bands pilfering Incantation records for unsettling tones.  If you’re trying to sound evil, you aren’t evil.  Effort is for posers.  Disinter seems like they’re having fun with the material here, and their metalness is without question.  It’s just a tough sell in 2014, as aged ears such as mine are usually hoping to hear new paths approached within metal.  The paths chosen here however are pretty sweet ones, as the band out-Vaders Vader during “Harlots of War” and has a nice take on a Rotting Christ type of sound during the second half of “Nihilistic Age.”  And is that piano on “Zyklon B?“  It totally is!

The problem is although I’m enjoying the record, will it go the route of Spreading the Message and not be a release I reach for in the future?  As much as I despise the immediate gratification needed by today’s ADD metal audience, I’ve heard these songs far too many times.  The material is good and their flirtations with melody do really stand out and give the songs character, but the paths to and from these passages won’t stick in your brain after the record is over.  While I’d love to hear a record that capitalizes on their melodic strengths, I’m sure that’s the last thing Pandemia wants, since those elements may signal the unwanted flair that the band surely doesn’t want to clutter their music with.  With At the Gates of Nihilism, Pandemia’s message is clear, I’m just not sure if my ears can hear it anymore.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jerry Hauppa
February 2nd, 2015


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