One of the weird parts of being into metal is the realization of exactly how intense metalheads are with genre labels. Even I, a noted non-snob, and guilty of being overly descriptive and picky about labels. God forbid you throw around a subgenre tag falsely or not understand the history of a style.

We’ll say a band is technical progressive blackened death, and two things happen. One, people will argue whether your label is precise and perfect (“what’s really prog about this?!?!” or “I hear more thrash than black due to the blastbeats…”); two, you likely already know a bunch of bands that have tried a similar style and can unpack weird mish-mashes of genre without actually hearing any music. So yes, metal is a weird yet awesome assemblage of sound and subgenre, as well as personality.

That brings me to this excellent new record from Ohio act Plaguewielder, whose latest really does embody the labels being thrown around about the band. No shade intended, but so many blackened sludge/doom acts don’t lean heavily enough into the possibilities, and Covenant Death smartly focuses on balancing the two sides of that metallic coin.

The pace and atmosphere is constantly eerie (just picture that cover art from legend Jef Whitehead), but the sense of shifting adventure is what really won me over. Plaguewielder definitely don’t just attempt to throw some blastbeats in between extended doom-y riff sections as a lot of blackened sludge will do. Instead, dissonant melodies, truly aching vocals, and an arrythmia-like pulsating rhythm section all coalesce into something hideous and beautiful.

The cherry on top is actual songwriting that connects the disparate black, sludge, and stoner pieces together. When a haunting, almost elegiac section blasts off into a blackened fury, that’s when Plaguewielder are at their best. The persistent feeling of despair and isolation hits home for many of us over the past year, but southeast Ohio has been decimated for a while.

The spirit of their land carries into these pained tunes. Covenant Death is definitely best consumed in one continuous burst, though a point of caution. The “worst” (read: least awesome) song on here is the opening track, which led me to pass over the promo the first couple chances I gave it. Stick with the record, and you will definitely be rewarded. This is blackened sludge at its finest.

Stream/buy this album at this link: https://plaguewielderohio.bandcamp.com/album/covenant-death

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