Pulchra Morte - Divina Autem et Aniles - (8.5/10)
Published on March 15, 2019
Making death beautiful again.
Calling your band Pulchra Morte is bound to give a few people the wrong impression, especially when hearing that doom metal is on the cards. For those with a smattering of Latin or modern Italian, the phrase (which the band intended to mean “beautiful death”) will probably suggest slow, lamenting gothic doom that includes too much use of keyboards and silly – possibly euphemistic – songtitles like “With Death in My Hand Under the Willows I Sob Lachrymose Pools”. However, despite more Latin for the album title and one of the songs, Pulchra Morte definitely aren’t into that kind of thing, preferring to take a heavier and more visceral route to grief. As the first major product of a certified doom death five-piece, Divina Autem et Aniles (“godless yet divine” by the band’s reckoning; the more amusing “godless and wives” if you consult some patchy translation engines) surprises by taking a path rarely seen before in the genre.
The first target that Pulchra Morte miss on that preconceived route to slow, lamenting gothic doom is a large one – this album isn’t slow. A great rolling momentum steams off opening tracks “Give No More” and “Black Ritual”, sounding like several unsaddled horses cantering off into the morning mists the day after the inhabitants of their village succumbed to the ravages of fire and plague. Much of the album bears the same spirit of free abandonment set to the backdrop of awful tragedy, the swift songs all passing by in less than five minutes apiece until the closing pair bring the sun down in gloomier, more gradual style. The energy of the riffing extends to the guitar melodies as well, the duo of Jeffery Breden and Jarrett Pritchard dancing away from their death metal pasts to lilt and swoon like a carefree Gregor Mackintosh. Indeed, the sound of Paradise Lost’s six-string master proves the most palpable influence on many of the songs, solos grating on thin lines of rust just as the lead tone from Gothic managed back in 1991, while the rhythm parts offer a firmer, more buoyant version of the same, backed as they are by a rock-solid production.
Divina Autem et Aniles therefore offers a neat compromise between the early ‘90s doom drudgery of acknowledged influences such as My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost and the up-tempo sounds that these ex-members of Harkonin and current players in Eulogy know so well. Speeding through an album of 10 songs in 41 minutes may ring alarm bells (or tolling funeral bells, if they feel more appropriate) for fans of the ever-dour Peaceville Three, though comparisons to the fleet-footed dance of classic Solitude Aeturnus and the molten groove of Crowbar also colour various cuts. Another point of interest comes in the form of Jason Barron’s throaty roars, fitting the old school death metal image yet rarely offering anything of melancholy or weakness to the robust stomp of songs like “Soulstench”. However, the song in question bears clear marks of the gothic sound from which Pulchra Morte seem so deliberately to have distanced themselves. Echoing female vocals from Heather Dykstra dig into a genuine sense of loss and regret, returning also on “Thrown to the Wolves”. Bearing in mind that “Soulstench” was released as a single in 2018 alongside a cover of Paradise Lost’s “The Painless”, the influence needs no sleuth to track back to its source.
Given that Gothic looms large over many of the songs mentioned so far, calling “Fire and Storm” an ace in the hole might be a slight overstatement; after all, Paradise Lost’s sophomore album also made use of strings to form a grandiose atmosphere and broaden the sonic palette. Then again, bringing in Naarah Strokosch as another guest to play cello on that song and the entirety of its introduction (“Ignis et Tempestas” smartly follows the Latin theme despite having an identical moniker to its conjoined twin) distinguishes Pulchra Morte from their British godfathers and weighs the album down with more emotion than its briskness initially suggests. When the drumming steadies for “Shadows from the Cross”, the ponderous riff work imparts just the right glum aura and the melodies shine bitterly through. The contrast returns again though, as Clayton Gore peppers lively fills across his kit to usher in the solo.
Disappointingly, the only part of Divina Autem et Aniles that fails to deliver is the instrumental “IX”, which weighs in as the longest song. Taking the foot off the gas means that mood should take centre stage: the repeated riffs with their blurred endings prove only partially capable of maintaining interest, while the hazy manner in which the second half solos and winds around most of the bandmembers’ instruments captures the listener to a greater degree. The mild stoner tendencies introduced in “IX” detract from the intrigue of Pulchra Morte’s formula despite setting up solemn closer “When Legends Die” in fine style. Without a doubt, any fan of early Paradise Lost will be overjoyed to revel in “Soulstench” and “Fire and Storm”, while enough is done to modernize and convert the doom death sound into novel shapes, the infectious energy of which will doubtless draw in a wider selection of metalheads. Pulchra Morte have done all they can to turn powerful metal into beautiful death.