I’ve always been of the opinion that black metal doesn’t have to break the mold or take itself too seriously to be good, and frankly Calgary’s Black Pestilence doesn’t do either of those things on their sixth full length, Hail the Flesh, despite a wide collection of influences. What they do manage to accomplish is the creation of rip-roaring, ferocious songs that are fast, catchy, and most importantly fun as all get-out to listen to. This is not an album that is going to change the face of black metal, but man does it go hard.
Hailing from the Great White North, Black Pestilence was initially born (spawned?) as a one-man studio project by bassist, vocalist and primary songwriter Valax. The project quickly outgrew its confines, though, and expanded to a three piece which now includes Daniel Toews on guitar and Davey Hellfire on drums so the band could play live, which they have extensively, opening for such heavyweights as Soulfly, Absu, The Black Dahlia Murder, and Skeletonwitch. Throughout their twelve-year career, they have maintained a sound categorized by the mixture of hardcore punk, black metal and thrash, three genres that, for my money, blend together like peanut butter, jelly and bread. You can imagine that when you take musical styles that are known for loud, fast and furious songs, the result of their interbreeding is…well, all of those things. Still, it’s not like there isn’t anything exciting about black metal tremolo picking and thrash riffing over punk rock beats and bass breaks. You already know what you’re getting into, but it still leaves you satisfied. It’s not a long album by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s punchy instead of brief, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It gets in and out in exactly the time it needs to, and at the end of the day, these songs are fun, full of headbanging and slam dancing without the need to take themselves for anything other than what they are.
The opening title track comes in with a bang, taking no prisoners and jumping right in with a full force, thrashy riff riding over a punk gallop leading into the obligatory shout-along chorus. It’s a really solid track that opens things wide for even more in-your-face bangers like “Hellfire” and “True to the Dark,” both of which are skewed more heavily towards the punk side of things. I tend to enjoy these songs the most on Hail to the Flesh, but I’m a sucker for good old-fashioned punk rock. Also, because I am who I am, I am compelled to talk about the bass tone and how much I love it. Valax never goes completely clean, but the way he switches between dirty and filthy allows him to make the most of the space afforded in a three-piece combination, and those bass breaks, particularly on “True to the Dark,” give me serious Matt Freeman vibes. Seeing as how Rancid are my favorite band, this pleases me to no end. But fear not, for if you’re looking for tracks favoring the metallic end of the spectrum, you’ll be pleased with the title track, “Godless,” and “Cloven Division,” the latter of which is a blast beat driven affair that is straight up black metal worship in the best possible way. While most of the songs are under three minutes, the closer, “Ephemeral,” is a six-and-a-half-minute cut that is much slower paced and features some groove and noise elements not found anywhere else on the album. It’s a good song, but it’s the only one that seems to feel like the pieces don’t quite fit together. Still, Hail to the Flesh rules and it’s definitely not enough to leave me disappointed at the end.
Black Pestilence haven’t done anything truly unprecedented on Hail to the Flesh, but that’s fine with me. Contemporaries like Skeletonwitch and Midnight may see more of the spotlight, but Black Pestilence has been doing it just as long as anyone, and they know how to craft an album that hits you right in the sweet spot. Just because it’s not breaking the mold doesn’t mean it’s not a good time. Hail to the Flesh is a good time.