Tech Death Thursday: Vale of Pnath – Accursed

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Vale of Pnath are back in black.

I’m gonna be real with you here: when I read in the press release that Accursed “is fueled with Tech Death adrenaline and shrouded in black metal’s iniquitous aura,” I recalled the last Alterbeast album and groaned aloud to myself. Feast wasn’t really a bad album per se, but it was not the followup to Immortal that I expected or wanted. The band’s savage twist on typical neoclassical tech death tropes had been replaced with a tired “Hail Satan” blackened aesthetic that sapped the music of the personality expressed in its predecessor. I feared a similar outcome for Vale of Pnath, and I’d braced myself for disappointment.

And, as you’ve likely surmised at this point, that disappointment did not come. Rather than using the aforementioned “iniquitous aura” of black metal as a crutch for songwriting, the band uses it to create a particular ambiance. While there are a few moments that are of pure black metal conceit (see the chord changes at the start of “The Darkest Gate,” above), Vale of Pnath is still a tech death band, and this is a tech death album. Whether you want evil blackened atmosphere or raw instrumental finesse, you’re going to get something out of Accursed.

While I was a big fan of the band’s sophomore album, a fairly common critique leveled at it was that it lacked personality or memorability, that it was more about the technique than creating distinctive songs. That won’t be an issue with this album; the band’s penchant for neoclassical riffs is a perfect complement to their newfound black metal trappings. This new album feels distinctly darker and more evil than its predecessors, layering airy tremolo-picked leads over big chords and peppering them with deft arpeggiated melodies. They’ve incorporated some grinding electronics into their sound as well; while this could have been a recipe for horrible cheese, these parts are saved for interludes and short breaks within the songs, and the minimalist approach keeps them from stepping on the music as a whole.

One unexpected surprise was the presence of some riffs that felt like a callback to The Prodigal Empire. While that wasn’t my favorite album ever, it’s unquestionably more aggressive than II, and the return of some of that vitriol is most welcome. Between the intricate dancing guitars and blasting blackened fury are punchy syncopated grooves that toy with polyrhythms and time signature changes. There are no dull moments on this EP, and nothing outstays its welcome.

With this mix of riffing styles, Accursed feels like the band’s most complete album to date, encapsulating everything they’ve done since their inception. Vale of Pnath has retained everything I loved about II and approached their old sound from a new angle, all while mixing in entirely new facets to their music. Despite that, the music is tight and focused, cohesive in its vision and deft in its execution. It feels like the start of a new chapter for the band, and I’m very excited to see where they go next.

Accursed is out tomorrow (5/17) on Willowtip, available at their Bandcamp and web shop. Follow Vale of Pnath on Facebook, and catch them live this month on the Devastation on the Nation tour.

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