I dunno about you fine folks, but most days, I just need a cup of coffee. Not, mind you, the world's finest cup of coffee; just a good ol' utilitarian cup of coffee. So long as it isn't burnt and it gives me the crank I need, I am happy to welcome it into my daily routine--and, in many cases, use it as an unfortunate crutch to ease me through the brainfoggy doldrums. I'll go out on a limb here and assume I'm not the only one. This unnecessarily extensive intro exists to establish the fact that, much like coffee, sometimes a patently normal death metal album is all it takes to keep me happy in my day-to-day. And that, dear readers, is what we have before us today, beguiling ye all with its gorgeous artwork and its death metal stoicism. Plague's Portraits of Mind is an aggressively solid piece of work, with all the right parts in all the right places.
Portraits of Mind is not extraordinary, nor game-changing, but it need not be. I enjoy the absolute living hell out of this album regardless, and have been doing so for the better part of a month. Plague reminds me strikingly of Skeletal Remains--both bands balance the bludgeoningly visceral nature of early death metal with obvious technical prowess and compositional awareness. Indeed, as these Athenian bruiser's bio accurately asserts, the band "effortlessly combines simplicity in form with stellar musicianship." As a prime example of solid death metal played proficiently, this has everything you want and need in the pummeling department. In other words: yes please. Hook me up, IV drip style.
While I am harping on Plague's station as solid and serviceable, there are several points throughout Portraits of Mind that truly do rise above the label of normalcy. Take for example, that fantastic moment on "Portal to Reality," right around the one-minute mark, where things kick from a low rumble into a higher gear--and then promptly slow down for a mournfully melodic solo. Or the constantly evolving nature of "Shattering the Illusion," which seemingly introduces a new motif at every turn. Or the particularly earworm-y melodics on "Cave of Vectors"--a welcome break from Plague's death metal rolling thunder. Or, my personal favorite: the back-and-forth between guitar and drums halfway through "Pandemic," which sounds all for the world like a vitriolic debate between two equals. These points serve as touchstones in the album as a whole, and help prevent the fatigue that generally arises when one does bloody battle in the OSDM arena.
Instrumentally, Plague know what the hell they are doing. I do wish, as always, that the bass tone was a little heftier, but that's negligible. The guitars carry themselves with a clean confidence, and range in their delivery from standard Old Skool riffage to deliciously extensive soloing. While there are the inevitable moments that feel straight out of the book of Death, the general trend is one of familiarity instead of blatant mimicry.
Of particular note are the drums. While they remain universally utilitarian, there is also an intriguing element to the dynamic that they establish with the guitar. There's a sense of drama and intrigue here, which in turn greatly increases the replayability. While dealing, as anticipated, in no-nonsense brutality, the drums do occasionally verge on playful levity--operating in stark contrast to the monotonal vocals. A little more variety in this department is always nice--I crave more of the expulsive chanted delivery that peeks out on rare occasion. But, in another sense, the monotone does act as a reliable foundation.
The most remarkable aspect of Portraits of Mind is that, despite a marked confidence and precision, it is Plague’s debut LP. The fact that they operate as such a strong unit at this early stage in their songwriting career indicates truly great things to come. What I’m trying to say is this: they truly do possess the potential to brew up a gobstoppingly delicious cup, but in the meantime, I am exceedingly happy to continue consuming their current concoction on a near-daily basis. After all, much like our caffeinious poison o’ choice, death metal done right is grossly addicting. Needless to say, Portraits of Mind comes highly recommended.
Plague - Portraits of Mind will be released Feb. 14th from Redefining Darkness Records (N.America) | Nuclear Winter Records (Europe)
Providing thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy, and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a groggy-eyed, highfalutin peasantry.