Between The Worlds of Life and Death furthers the journey of Vale of Pnath into a symphonic and blackened death metal band, mastering and subverting genre tropes along the way.

Release date: May 24, 2024 | Willowtip Records | Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram

Vale of Pnath has been a staple in the underground technical and progressive death metal community for 15 years. They released their first EP in 2009, followed by 2011’s full-length debut on Willowtip Records. Never a group to rush themselves, the band’s sophomore, II, came out in 2016, while Accursed followed in 2019. From their first release to Accursed, Vale of Pnath has moved from a technical, progressive foundation to an increasingly blackened and symphonic approach. Does Between The Worlds of Life and Death carry on this trajectory?

Indeed, the band has intentionally continued on this path. With the release of the first single for the record, Vale of Pnath made their creative intentions clear:

‘It’s been 5 years since our last release, Accursed. The EP really was a new avenue for the band as we leaned further toward a more blackened approach stylistically. Having more of a tech death background, this EP was a way to lead our fans into the next era. Between The Worlds of Life and Death is an album that really is just a continuation of what we started with Accursed.’ 

That first single, “Burning Light“, brings the nine tracks and 38 minutes of Between The Worlds of Life and Death to an epic close. The song’s opening creepy orchestration and almost electronic triplet groove immediately caught my attention. Even as the song picks up pace with blast beats, the triplet rhythms and rapid strings give the track a sense of cohesion that shows how honed the group’s songwriting has become in its 15 years. At almost six minutes, the track is one of the album’s longest, allowing it to explore a range of dynamics that move from neck-breaking riffage to cinematic and atmospheric guitars and strings.

‘Cinematic’ is wholly a term that applies to this record. While starting an album like this with an orchestral interlude is far from uncommon, “The Forgotten Path” hardly feels obligatory. Instead, its raw, scraping strings evoke scores like Bobby Krlic‘s work on Midsommar before becoming increasingly epic. Singles “Silent Prayers” and “Soul Offering” follow from there. The first is more mid-paced for a blackened death metal band, with a sense of groove underpinned by haunting tremolo and harmony guitar lines. The second opens relentlessly, pairing neoclassical piano arpeggios with rapid drums and interlocking guitar lines. Synths peak out through the arrangement, not unlike the album’s closer, offering surprising ear candy and hooks to a genre that often eschews such elements. However, hooks aren’t just the work of the song’s synths – the half-time harmonic riff at about 1:50 in the track led me to revisit “Soul Offering” many times.

Many of Vale of Pnath‘s contemporaries can be prone to excess, with lengthy run times and overstuffed arrangements. Comparatively, Between The Worlds of Life and Death maintains its focus, an impressive feat for an album filled with multiple interlocking layers of synths, choirs, strings, shredding guitars, and blast beats. The band varies song lengths and dynamics strategically, alternating between more meditative epics like “Shadow” and more concise songs like “Soul Offering” or “No Return, No Regret“.

I’m really impressed with Between The Worlds of Life and DeathVale of Pnath clearly love and master the symphonic and blackened sound they so strategically pursued on this record. Even beyond this shift in sound, the band has songwriting chops that allow them to execute their vision with hardly a misstep. Vale can run the gamut from technical to atmospheric, and cinematic to crushing while maintaining cohesion and consistency, all in one song. I also really appreciated the band’s foray into electronic elements, adding unique textures that I do not often hear in this genre. While some fans may be upset that they have waited five years for seven full songs and two interludes, this record’s intentionality and attention to detail clearly convey that what we hear is exactly the record Vale of Pnath set out to make.

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