Album Title: Purifying Fire
Label: Noble Demon
Date of Release: 4 June 2021
Last year, the Noble Demon record label blasted into my life rather wonderfully, thanks to the release of Night Crowned’s ‘Impius Viam’ album, a record that featured in my end-of-year ‘best-of’ list at an impressive eighth spot. It remains a regularly played record, one of my current favourites within the blackened death arena. Naturally then, radar has been tweaked to set off an alarm any time Noble Demon offer us new releases, just in case I’m blown away in a similar fashion. Thank goodness, because it has happened again. Not blackened death this time, but an incredible slab of melodic death metal goodness.
The band in question goes by the name of Plaguestorm, although it’s more accurately a solo project at the hands of Sebastián Pastor. The Argentinian, who has toiled under the Plaguestorm moniker since 2014 is, right now, as popular as his compatriot Mauricio Pochettino (fingers crossed fellow Spurs fans!) in the Mansion of Much Metal. Pastor is responsible for all of the songwriting, composing, lyrics, mixing and mastering, as well as playing all the acoustic guitars, electric guitars, bass, keys, and programming the drums. Yes, that’s right, I’m waxing lyrical about an album with fake drums. It’s pretty much a first and while I might definitely prefer the real thing, they are not synthetic enough to ruin my enjoyment of the music on ‘Purifying Fire’, Plaguestorm’s second full-length release.
Alongside Pastor, Mikael Sehlin has been drafted in to sing on the record, whilst the lead guitar solos are delivered at the hands of Diego Martínez and Pablo Román between them. I like this approach because Pastor handles what he is best at, inviting others to come in and do their thing to the overall enhancement of the music, rather than have a go himself and reducing the quality. And it has to be said that Sehlin has a great voice; his gruff bark has a properly nasty, vehement edge to it, but when he switches to a clean delivery he adds passion, a hint of melancholy, and melody without ever sounding trite or sickly sweet.
Speaking of melancholy, I don’t know whether it’s a symptom of the way I’m feeling currently, battling a few demons, but I have found much of ‘Purifying Fire’ to be rather moving in a way I wasn’t expecting. A lot of this has to do with the title track that features twice on the album – as a regular metal track and as an orchestrated version, created at the hands of the final guest musician, Sebastián Nuñez Szymanski. I expect to cry real man tears when I listen to Anathema, Katatonia, or Evergrey occasionally. But a melodic death metal album? I wasn’t expecting that. But there is material on ‘Purifying Fire’ that does this to me. Starting with that aforementioned title track.
The ‘original version’ begins with a solemn orchestrated intro, not dissimilar in tone and melody choice to the likes of Barbers Adagio For Strings. Then, in blasts a fast riff, backed by frenetic drumming and a delivery from Sehlin that is clean but with a gravelly undertone. He sings his heart out, morphing to growls as the solemn, melodic guitar riffs continue unabated. When the ‘chorus’ section kicks in, it’s huge, as the melodies keep coming. Sehlin returns to his clean delivery and something in me breaks, especially when he sings more introspectively; quietly, as if lost, forlorn, unsure. I love the groovy breakdown that ensues too, irresistible and catchy as hell, not to mention a poignant extended lead solo from Diego Martínez that is equal part shred and musical.
The orchestral version, as you might expect, just ups the orchestral arrangements, drops the vocals entirely, and sounds equally as poignant, albeit in a different way. There’s something about it and, as I type this, I’m staring across the house, into my daughter’s bedroom, watching her and her sister sleep together. I’m in floods of tears, but in a good way. I think.
But it isn’t just the title track that moves me, as ‘Never Learn’ puts forth a chorus that brings a lump to my throat thanks to a killer melody that sounds bittersweet, topped off by a passionate vocal performance and followed swiftly by another singing lead, this time courtesy of Pablo Román. I really like the fact that Pastor isn’t afraid of lacing his unarguably heavy, extreme metal with beautiful melody, balancing it nicely thus allowing us to indulge in both sides of the music without either taking precedence.
Another fantastic composition is ‘Burning Paradise’, the nine-and-a-half-minute closer. The acoustic intro is beautiful, calling to mind early Dark Tranquillity and In Flames, whilst the remainder of the composition steadfastly refuses to remain in one place for too long. Initially, the tempo is slower, more laboured, kicking up a notch as it progresses. The groove to the song is great, whilst another show-stopping solo materialises, as the accelerator is further depressed. At the half-way point, the acoustics return alongside some gentle orchestration, delivering a subdued, poignant melody, laced with bluesy, Dire Straits-like lead guitar playing. The ensuing staccato-riff is pure blackened death territory and there’s a delightful epic feel to the final moments, as the clean singing is subtle but well-placed atop a catchy riff, only to be cut off unceremoniously, to be replaced by sombre orchestration and a dying melancholy melody.
Elsewhere, the waltz-like tempo hinted at within ‘Back To Zero’, and ‘Close To Nowhere’ carry strong echoes to ‘The Jester Race’ era In Flames without veering into copycat territory. ‘You Against The World’, meanwhile, injects some bold synths into the melodeath stomp at the outset to provide a vaguely cosmic feel, full of atmosphere alongside the catchy riffing and heaviness.
Quite simply, what Plaguestorm and ‘Purifying Fire’ demonstrates is that, in the right hands, melodic death metal can still ignite that fire within me and provide endless hours of enjoyment. It isn’t the perfect album simply because I’m not 100% sold on the production, which could have been a tad fuller overall. The album art doesn’t necessarily do the music content enough justice in my humble opinion, and yes, a real drummer would have nudged things even higher. But regardless of these minor issues, there’s no denying the fact that Sebastián Pastor is one talented musician and, in ‘Purifying Fire’, he has delivered something incredibly entertaining and of a properly high quality. I shall look forward to future releases eagerly, whilst regularly listening to this fantastic record.
The Score of Much Metal: 92%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: