Nowadays when we hear the words “death doom” used to describe a new act, we can usually imagine an avalanche of void-spewing nihilism, perfected in decades past by acts such as Disembowelment or the slowest parts of Incantation’s Onward Toward Golgotha. While dedicated death metal fans certainly aren’t complaining, Pulchra Morte are here to shake these expectations with their exceptional debut, Divina Autem Et Aniles.
Pulchra Morte has an outstanding lineup made up of former and current members of Wolvhammer, Harkonnen, Withered, and Eulogy, along with guest appearances by vocalists Heather Dykstra (also formerly of Eulogy) and Tor Stavenes (1349, Svart Lotus) and cellist Naara Strokosch. The sound they conjure up is undoubtedly death doom, but of a more classically-influenced, nuanced variety.
Album opener “Give No More” exemplifies Pulchra Morte’s unique sound. The music is a seamless blend of Paradise Lost and Bolt Thrower, certainly death metal, but with an emphasis on twin-guitar harmonies and forlorn atmospheres. While every track spends most of its time at a lumbering mid-pace, there’s always plenty of detail to set one song apart from the next. “Black Ritual” features an almost thrashy intro riff, while “Soulstench” doubles down on the atmosphere with Dykstra’s clean vocals complementing the more sepulchral elements.
Meanwhile, “Fire and Storm” hints at an almost wintry black metal atmosphere. It’s as if they have unearthed a lost War Master-era Bolt Thrower riff and revealed its hidden, hypnotic qualities. “Reflection of a Drowning Sun” pulls off the same trick, but within a sludgier template.
Also worth noting are the two instrumentals, “Ignis Et Tempestas” and “IX.” The former walks a fine line between interlude and song, but it leans more to the latter due to its impact. It features Naara Strokosch’s beautiful string work complemented by a bit of acoustic guitar. Once again, Pulchra Morte knows how to build up layers of mood, and the sound of this short track even briefly returns in the next song, “Fire and Storm.”
The other instrumental,“IX,” is a different beast altogether. Though it appears late in the album, it vies to be a centerpiece given its power. Clayton Gore‘s drumming takes center stage here as he screws and chops the rhythms at will, adding a technical flair to the material. The feel here is almost reminiscent of the criminally underrated prog-doom act Confessor. But “IX” also brings to mind many of Metallica’s classic instrumentals, maybe not so much in sound but definitely in scope.
Ultimately, Pulchra Morte create a fantastic alchemy of death and doom, with both the classic atmosphere of their forefathers and the heaviness of more modern practitioners. Anyone who’s read Daniel Ekeroth’s essential book Swedish Death Metal will remember how many bands pointed to Candlemass as a formative influence, even if it wasn’t always immediately apparent in their sounds. Well, Pulchra Morte sounds like the missing link between the two subgenres, and anyone who loves that somber gray area between them should pick this one up right away.