Scáth Na Déithe (Shadow of the Gods) is a death-ish black metal duo from Ireland. Consisting of drummer Stephen Todd and multi-instrumentalist Cathal Hughes, Pledge Nothing but Flesh is their second release after dropping a four track EP in 2015. Pledge was originally released independently in 2017, but the German label Vendetta Records saw the potential in the band’s bleak vision and released it anew this year. The first release of the LP in 2017 went largely unnoticed, despite Pledge’s obvious appeal to fans of dark and expansive black metal. Let’s hope the label involvement manages to correct this situation, as this band is a valuable addition to the Irish black metal scene.
Scáth Na Déithe plays an unendingly bleak and punishing variant of death/black metal. The soundscape feels saturated with dark shades of gray and brown, the black and the death elements almost perfectly balanced. The production is earthy and organic providing the lengthy compositions with indelible grit and character. The lyrics are filled with the hopeless reflections of a tortured mind; self-loathing and desperate in the search for a way out of a hopeless existence. Taken with the four expansive tracks and the short interludes, the whole package feels epic in scope, like combining the dark mythos of Agalloch’s Faustian Echoes with Dante’s Inferno.
The record is clearly separated into an A- and a B-side, each front-ended with a short interlude. “Sí Gaoithe” wafts through the speakers like wandering apparitions traversing a dead forest, seguing into “Bloodless”’ trudging intro. The abundance of low and mid frequencies in the mix reminds me of the destructive blackened death of Aosoth’s An Arrow in Heart, one of the most successful meldings of black and death metal in later years. The track soon picks up speed, the harsh and unintelligible vocals sounding the feral cries of a trailing woodland beast. The track flows nicely, with a couple of stand-out moments peppering its 10-minute run time. “Bloodless” is quickly followed by “This Unrecognized Disease” which explodes with a cloud of dissonant shrapnel, before sprawling out like a far-flung field of wet, disintegrating leaves.
After 20 minutes of relentless bluster, Pledge offers its only moment of respite. “Fáilte Na Marbh” is like a stark clearing in a dismal forest, a place still somewhat graced with the memory of light. This glimmer is immediately whisked away with the arrival of “The Shackled Mind”, which is both the harshest and the best track on the album. The track sounds like a cataclysmic event driving entire communities into exile; a rumbling, flailing vortex of death and misfortune. After chasing destruction for 9 minutes, it closes off with an ominous clean section resembling the damp dungeon climes of The Ruins of Beverast.
The album is unfortunately closed off with a ten-minute track that, despite a moment of spacious beauty towards the middle, largely retreads the ground of earlier tracks. This is but a slight tarnish on a record that is otherwise an impressive display of gravelly vision. The band has worked their way into a sound that is both comfortably familiar, yet filled with enough character and variation to sustain the interest across a full-length effort. This sound has the potential to be whittled down into an even more refined product, a process that could well create a modern masterpiece. Pledge Nothing but Flesh deserves to be admired by a bigger audience, so if you have some shelf space left for a quality death/black release, I recommend giving the online store of Vendetta Records a visit.