Album Review: Plague Bearer - Summoning Apocalyptic Devastation
Reviewed by Sam Jones
So, this was a surprise. According to the history of Drawn And Quartered, legendary US death metal outfit as fronted by Herb Burke and Kelly Kuciemba since 1994, Plague Bearer was the original name of that band, dating back two years prior to a 1992 formation. Under the name of Plague Bearer, Demos were released in ’93 and again in ’94 and ’01, yet Burke and Kuciemba always returned to their Drawn And Quartered moniker when releasing full length material. A 2006 EP, Rise Or The Goat, was, for years, the closest we got to a debut album from the guys as Plague Bearer; two Compilations as of 2018 followed suit finally but now, finally, Burke and Kuciemba, along with Mike Sheldon of Slumber Room rapport on vocals, have released a full length record poised for an early March release. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a band actually return to the moniker they previously used, and then sought to release music in that name. This is Summoning Apocalyptic Devastation, a record three decades in the making.
It’s interesting how the band have sought to retain a level of primitive strength to their sound. When you listen to this record, there’s certainly a power emanating from their riffs and collective songwriting but, it’s by no means ultra refined or clean for us to see our reflection in. The actual performance is great and you can’t help but feel the surge of power coursing through the record, yet it’s unmistakably raw as it feels like it was recorded in a vacuum. There’s a particular echoing vibe running throughout their performance as you feel the riffs and vocals bouncing off raw and dishevelled walls. As a result the record harnesses a blunt and matter of fact aesthetic whereby Plague Bearer are not concerned for your comfort, and seek solely to subject you to the most ruthless punishment they may conceive.
Due to the choice in production quality, and the deliberate application of the mixing process, the vocals have been rendered with an especially savage delivery. As per my first listening of Mike Sheldon’s vocal ability, i’m impressed with how he’s able to maintain his delivery throughout the whirlwind assault the riffs conjure up. But it’s also the velocity by which his vocals may suddenly ramp up with intensity, taking a pretty standard performance by this album’s rate and twisting it, turning it into something animalistic and then listening to it rise with pitch yet retaining the familiar, scathing strength. It offsets against the riffs really well and, listening to the soundscape thus establishes, it comes off as totally natural, as if this was the only kind of vocal performance that would be best suited for a record like this.
The band may have pretty defined avenues by which their songwriting flows, and fans will know what direction they’re being taken in for the most part, yet there are numerous occasions where you’ll be enjoying a track, feel like you know where it’s going, before Plague Bearer suddenly go nuts on you and hurl you straight into a sweeping and wailing guitar solo, incessant blast beat and bass drum demolitions and vocals that are, at times, just pure screams with nary a coherent syllable found anywhere within those bellowing cries. I do like this choice as it helps these guys differentiate Summoning Apocalyptic Devastation from the more well known Drawn And Quartered work; had this been too similar to DAQ records, it’s likely Plague Bearer would merely be received as DAQ-lite as opposed to a formally recognised band with their own unique brand of sound. This sonic madness also ties into the band’s style of raw death metal too, complementing the stripped back soundscape this record was born in.
While Plague Bearer was conceived as a death metal outfit, the songwriting on display throughout this record demonstrates an undeniably blackened aesthetic that can be easily picked up on throughout the full album. Plague Bearer’s songwriting tends to dance back and forth between the blockier and slab-like riffs of conventional death metal, yet we then receive instances of blackened songwriting where the riffs have relinquished all semblance of density, and have become funnelled into one seamless stream of evil. This is the case for whole tracks at a time, or during the same track that, beforehand, bolstered the blockier form of riff performance. If fans of Drawn And Quartered wanted something to help separate these two bands, it’s the blackened essence that’ll do the job.
In conclusion, Summoning Apocalyptic Devastation couldn’t be a more apt title for such a record as this. Plague Bearer have gone out of their way to ensure it only differentiates from Drawn And Quartered, but that it’s the most savage and ruthless work they can put out to make up for three decades lacking a full length work. People after a death metal work with healthy infusions of blackened sound will be made up with Plague Bearer here, as it’s utterly impossible not to take notice. Closing things out as rudimentarily as the record began, Plague Bearer have no time nor desire for especial fanfare or recognition. It arrives, screams in your face, then leaves, and desires to see you come back to it again and again. One of the more primal and bombastically evil works as of yet released this year, Summoning Apocalyptic Devastation lives up to its name and then some.