Vale Of Pnath

Between The Worlds Of Life And Death

rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. The Forgotten path (Intro)
02. Silent Prayers
03. Soul Offering
04. Shadow
05. Uncertain Tomorrow
06. Beneath Ashen Skies
07. No Return, No Regret
08. Echoes Of The Past (Interlude)
09. Burning Light

Denver-dwelling doyens of dazzling tech-death, VALE OF PNATH have earned a cult following for the sheer claustrophobic extremity of their sound. Previous albums "The Prodigal Empire" (2011) and "II" (2016) had an idiosyncratic, gothic quality to them, but their main focus was total obliteration via melted frets and smoking kick drum pedals. 2019's "Accursed" EP was an obvious turning point, as the band embraced the darkness, and began to stride down the left-hand path with black metal influences brought purposefully to the fore. If those songs were the preamble, "Between the Worlds of Life and Death" is the main event. Five years on, VALE OF PNATH have a new lineup and a precision-tooled, upgraded sound.

Founding guitarist Vance Valenzuela has been joined by Ken Sorceron (ABIGAIL WILLIAMS) on vocals and guitar, bassist Austin Rolla and drummer Gabe Seeber (also ABIGAIL WILLIAMS),  and the evolutionary impact on the whole enterprise is apparent from the opening seconds of "Silent Prayer": a tornado of ultra-pompous but horribly black tech-death wizardry, with an eerily clear but caustic production to match. This follows an intro created by WILDERUN's Wayne Ingram that is tastefully symphonic but aggressively dramatic: it sets up the subsequent onslaught perfectly.

VALE OF PNATH have retained much of their tech-death brutality, but the blackened elements have stolen its soul, imbuing a dense battery of riffs and blasts with liberated melodic sensibilities that were only occasionally apparent in the past. "Silent Prayer" provides a neat synopsis: utterly crushing, but weirdly accessible, it has a BEHEMOTH-like haughtiness running through its veins, and levels of virtuoso precision that will make your eyes water.

These are great songs, aside from VALE OF PNATH's obvious technical prowess. "Soul Offering" is awash with rippling, night-sky keyboard runs that nod towards early EMPEROR and DIMMU BORGIR, but the song itself is constructed on brutal, machine-gun riffs that eschew the florid in favor of the directly ferocious. This is a hybrid with plenty of acknowledged precedents, but there is a perpetual sense of urgency and thinly veiled madness driving "Between the Worlds of Life and Death" along, and whether it's the intricate, prog metal dervish dance of "Shadow" or the classic DM triumphalism of "No Return, No Regret", VALE OF PNATH have wrapped everything in a bewitching shroud of malevolence, blurring the lines between the fervently modern and the instinctively mysterious and arcane. That is never more obvious than on "Burning Light". Preceded by another Wayne Ingram creation, it is a masterful piece of blackened death metal songwriting, with a gleaming core of tear-your-face-off intensity, and a gently mischievous side that emerges through quirky conjunctions, nightmarish keyboard tones and an overwhelming sense that the ceiling might come crashing down at any second.

"Between the Worlds of Life and Death" is ambitious, extreme, uncompromising and, as an added treat, bursting with guest solos from some of death metal's greatest and best, including Christian Muenzer (OBSCURA / NECROPHAGIST) and Miles Dimitri Baker (INTERLOPER). Quite the comeback, all things considered.

Author: Dom Lawson
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