Pantheon – Age Of Wolves (2020)

Our local scene is still going strong as Pantheon proves with their debut album, Age Of Wolves. As frontman BJ Cook described the record, it’s a type of blackened death thrash, but when I think of that I think of something like Nunslaughter or Toxic Holocaust, which this is not. Instead, we have a heavily textured vein of melodic death metal that touches on elements of black metal quite well.

“Serpent Death Cult” has more of a death metal feel, with strong vocal gravel from the frontman as well as notable lead melody and killer solo number. I’m actually getting touches of Amon Amarth here as well. “Awakening The Gods” opens with a rather mysterious riff, before it goes into clobbering you over the head. There are some notable vocal acrobatics here and it’s undoubtedly the best BJ has ever sounded. I’m really digging it. Not only that, but the track is groove-heavy and even throws a few hails to the Swedish death gods of old. “Age Of Wolves” would have to be the most black metal influenced and you’ll pick that up immediately from the opening lead riffs. This is also the first track where progressive structures start to take hold, which give the listener more meat to chew on than a standard black metal song, even if I’m hearing a lot of classic Dissection here and their classification as black metal is still up in the air. I’d personally say that they were more black metal than some black metal bands out there today, which truly says a lot. Another solo also creeps up on the album and of course, I’m digging that.

I can understand every word in “Lust Of The Beast” but the vocals sound completely different here compared to the other cuts for some reason. The song is generally more punk-infused, though it features blasts and groove moments. It’s a fun one, but for some odd reason I feel like I’ve been taken out of the atmosphere. Guitar solos do manage to save the day, but I just feel like something weird happened here and it threw off the balance, like I was jamming a completely different band. That vibe stays the same through the next song “Left My Mark” which doesn’t quite as memorable to me either. Again, it’s a fun song and I like the progressive death/groove nature of it but it’s a weird change from what I was jamming in the beginning. Melodies obviously notable here with a touch of Swedish death vibes that really pummel on the chorus line.

Bringing us back to the mood a little is “Presence Of Dark” but I notice what sounds like two vocalists on the same song and I find that I’m confused. One of course is more fit for the death metal and brutal death metal circuits, while BJ is generally more suited to this kind of material, he has that black metal vibe which comes off very well on this kind of album. As I noted earlier, I largely think of Dissection when I think of this album, but of course there are hundreds of classic death and progressive metal references strewn about. It’s a veritable hodgepodge of influences, which keeps the listen fresh and far from stagnant. We need that right now in a scene that has become all too predictable.

What sounds like two vocalists here could very well be vocal layering, but even if that’s the case I think it largely takes away from the listen, at least on my end. I’ve loved the first three songs a great deal, but then from “Lust Of The Beast” forward, I find myself more and more confused at the change in vocal tone. I’ve heard thousands of discs over the years and that’s no exaggeration. The pains in my ears could tell you this and I don’t hear even half as good as I used to. Though I’ve never heard an entire album vocally switch gears like that unless there was a vocalist change during the recording sessions. In fact, it almost makes the first three songs seem like an EP and the other five seem like a completely different recording altogether. Not that this is a bad thing, it’s just certainly not what I expected and I did not catch it on the first listen. That’s why it’s important for me to jam these records on my studio headphones after the initial listen on my earbuds. Even so, the song in general has a hellishly good mid-section with possibly the best solo section on the album and is definitely a strong moment.

Forget what I said about the title cut being the most black metal influenced, because that crown goes to “Choir Of Death.” Though it doesn’t maintain that level of frost for very long, I’m happy to hear the groove riffs and what sounds like some slight psychedelics coming in. I’m slightly reminded of classic WWE Attitude era groove riffs or perhaps the Painkiller soundtrack (I guess Doom 2016’s soundtrack would also count, as there’s a little bit of ripping and tearing going on) but honestly the song title should have been “Wrestling With Ihsahn” or “The Corpse-Painted Cage Match.” I dig it, because it subverts the listener expectations of being a full-on black metal song. There’s also no other black metal band on Earth that I’ve seen willing to do something like this. “Eclipse Of The Worm Moon” finishes the album out with another spectacular solo, but it didn’t really leave a mark on me.

Suffice it to say that the guys have written a strong album and I’d like to hear more from them. I’m not sure what the vocal change-up was all about, but it threw me off course for a while until about “Choir Of Death.” That being said, there are plenty of fun songs in that middle section of the album, so I can’t exactly tear it apart as I would have with other releases. The record is ultimately pretty solid and I’ve enjoyed it for the most part, so I’d have to give it a solid score in retrospect. I think you’ll dig it too, especially if you like your expectations for a metal album largely subverted.


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