Musical Review #1: Pentacle - Under The Black Cross
Under The Black Cross
Iron Pegasus Records
Netherlands (Bladel, North Brabant)
The "new old school" of death metal has predominantly been focused on two general sounds. The first of these is the post-Dismember/Entombed style of hardcore punk style rhythms combined with a metallic eye towards lengthy and intricate tremolo melodies. The second of these harkens towards ideas from the more occult side of New York extreme metal (Profanatica and Incantation), using sudden and abrupt often blast beat guided motions to regulate and vary a theatre of violently converging themes. From the Netherlands comes a band that pre-dates these two, going back to the year 1990, playing in a style that looks back to the early American rigidly pounding approach of bands such as Massacre and Leprosy-era Death but gives it a European tinge in its melodic sensibilities that reminds of classic Asphyx. These are best used only as general references however as they manage to the previously mentioned groups.
As with many bands that attempt to re-create the same classic feel and excellence of the late 80's/early 90's death metal explosion, the music here is of a low-tech and mostly un-advanced execution but unlike the pop-metal and "core" sounds of the new millennium this is not so much an artistic deficiency as much as it is a general attribute. Pentacle's compositional style is based upon a sense of contrast between jagged Hellhammer/Celtic Frost style crunching rhythm riffs and longer melodies, often tremolo picked, that recall Asphyx's "The Rack" although occasionally a slight Swedish death metal influence creeps in with their length and streamlining. Songs utilize the polarizing clash between the two in a way that evolves like an escalating conflict. Within each of these battles, a sub-theme will often break through the lines to start a small foray, one that hints at a future directional change. While the core idea remains the same as the song progresses, it reincarnates itself through the preceded theme usually with modified technique, before following finally following a bridge that leads it back to the song's originating riff.
A thick and somewhat dry production allows for a fair share of angry buzz, allowing all instruments to be heard fairly well while allowing for a fair share of rawness. A desolate open throated bark commands the instrumentation like some microphone-armed drill sergeant, sounding similar to the legendary Martin Van Drunen of Asphyx and Pestilence although not quite as powerful. Guitar is well acquainted with the cult heroes of underground extreme metal but pronounces its knowledge with a militant sense of order and precision, never becoming technical as much as it is strictly cadenced. Bass and drums bash alongside faithfully but throw in bits of simple flair at certain intervals to spice up the execution a bit.
Although Pentacle do not break any new ground with this album, they are able to create a voice of their own and successfully build upon the earlier foundations of the genre. At times they occasionally sound somewhat limited by some instances of noticeable repetition and in their compositional ability. However, these shortcomings fortunately do not cripple or tarnish their artistic vision, with songwriting remaining clear, concise, and obviously guided by very experienced musicians. They are able to transcend perceives problems of aesthetic limiting the content (often made by those confusing the former for the latter) and have delivered a work that captures the same standard of quality of those that have influenced them.
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