Review Summary: Blackened deathgrind at its most agressive, Plague Widow's short debut EP is a Lovecraft inspired punch to the face
Some genres just aren't kind to innovation. Whether it be the cultural circumstances of a movement or the music itself simply being lent to a certain degree of invariability, genres like brutal death metal and deathcore seem to me more than content churning out the same vile status quo as always. However to say any genre is totally devoid innovation would simply be unfair, and Plague Widow prove this fact by inhabiting and invigorating a number of metal niches.
It should be made immediately clear the Plague Widow boast no friendly aspects to their music. Their violent little debut EP only clocks in at 15 minutes but it doesn't need any more time to get its point across; you are weak. While holding the agressive edge of brutal death metal, the band successfully melts grindcore and black metal into their sound, forging a seamless and sharp-as-hell blade of pure violence and darkness.
So what makes an album thats 1/3 filler ambiance so successful? Well for Plague Widow the key lies in its ability to so efficiently pack a head-spinning amount riffs, pinch harmonics, blast beats, stop-start dynamics and quarrelsome vocals into the 10 odd minutes of musical onslaught they present. The self-titled opens with your standard minute of ethereal foreboding which eventually morphs into a truly suffocating buzz until it reaches its parabolic tipping point, and thats when things start to get really interesting.
There's no denying that Plague Widow are a talented group of musicians. Despite being rooted in a genre of full on redundancy and gimmicks, the Sacramento based group of four will have nothing to do with brutal death's cliched status quo. If one were to take the best parts of the most agressive aspects of extreme metal's ringleaders they'd end up with a rough sketch of this band. Plague Widow hasn't reinvented the wheel here, but they execute what they have to work with so well you'll forget there were brutal metal band's to come before these guys.
The guitar work here is especially notable in the grand scope of things. Basically being the backbone of Plague Widow, the guitar work is nothing short of entertaining. Not only are the riffs themselves more fun than putting your arm in a bucket of salt and razor wire, but the songwriting is top-notch considering no actual song breaks the two minute and thirty second mark. Hal Rotter knows whats up in the riff writing department as every expression of anguish to leave his amp is pure gold. Flying back and forth like a demonic hummingbird between grinding onslaughts, brutal chugging, infectious pinch harmonics and sinister tremolo'd angst, a fine balance is achieved that prevents any one of these elements from overtaking the dynamics of the album.
However, it is the band's chemistry when playing together that makes this album special. Each instrumental fits into place flawlessly to form a machine like piece of music. The drumming is frighteningly fast paced and well executed. I hate relentless blast beats for the sake of relentless blast beats as much as anyone else, but when they're pulled off with the kind of 300/mph compelling vigor presented here, it just works. The vocals are equally as visceral as they transmute from foreboding gutturals to razor edged screams in the blink of an eye. All of this combines to form a perfectly balanced recording that gives all these aspects room to breathe and express.
About that "1/3 filler" statement. It refers to the longer than necessary intro and outro, however more significantly, the tracks Abyss I & Abyss II which summarily add to the album's dreamlike animosity. They rest on either side of Void, one of the albums strongest tracks, and feature bone chilling spoken word passages from H.P. Lovecraft's literature.
"A sickened, sensitive shadow writhing in hands that are not hands, and whirled blindly past ghastly midnights of rotting creation, corpses of dead worlds with sores that were cities, charnel winds that brush the pallid stars and make them flicker low."
Note that as I write this, the EP will repeat itself at least four times, but this is nothing to complain about. Plague Widow know what it takes to make a mantle-piece type album, the kind that just doesn't get old. Barring heavy influence from black metal in this regard, Plague Widow took advantage of their raw-as-the-tender-flesh-of-a-newborn production values to add a plentitude of layers and subtle intricacies that are only unlocked after numerous listens, giving fans something rewarding to walk away with every time.
Its rare to see real innovation in the extreme metal world, but its not extinct. With such a unique sound, capable songwriting and a flair for straight-up, grinding agression, Plague Widow will surely be a force to be reckoned with as time goes on, but for now this 15 minute teaser of an EP is all we get to quench our bloodthirst. So kick back, relax and let Plague Widow grind the subatomic particles of your existence into oblivion.