Under the Black Cross

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There is nothing groundbreaking about Under the Black Cross, the fourth album by Dutch death metal band Pentacle. Even so, it sure sounds better than most of the more contemporary-sounding (read: over-produced) albums by their death metal peers. This music is heavily indebted to the mid- to late-'80s work of bands such as Death, Possessed, Celtic Frost, and Entombed, although the heaved-from-the-gut vocals are most reminiscent of Obituary. It is nice to hear a band play with this sort of down-to-earth intensity and not rely on excessively technical songwriting or loads of triggers and over-processed guitar tones. Song-wise, the highlights include opener "Into the Fiery Jaws," which sports a very Entombed-like riff that circles back on itself every nine beats, and "The Utmost Desolation," which shifts gears into a cool Sabbath-like shuffle midway through and then into an effective quarter-time section at the end of the song -- a welcome change of pace from the double-time thrashing that otherwise predominates. In other words, they are not going completely by the book, despite the old-school approach. That said, this album will still appeal mostly to listeners who share the band's enthusiasm for the early death metal era -- and who don't mind that this turf has been well-covered in the past, if not as much in the 2000s as in the decade and a half before that.

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