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I’ve often said how USBM is a very interesting collective of scenes and bands because US black metal doesn’t have a definitive signature sound, rather, the bands and projects decide based on their own influences or regional scenes are formed around collectives, as is the case with bands from the Cascadian regions, or the New York black metal scene. And speaking of New York, today we have a band that relocated from Florida to New York, and are in my humble opinion, one of, if not the best US black metal band of the past two decades, Negative Plane, who after a decade, return with their third full length album ‘The Pact…’ released through Invictus Productions and The Ajna Offensive.

Since its been 11 years, I’ll make this quick, Negative Plane was formed by frontman and lead guitarist Nameless Void back in 2001, and after recruiting drummer Bestial Devotion, they released their debut ‘Et in Saecula Saeculorum’ in 2006, which was followed by ‘Stained Glass Revelations’ in 2011, and included then bassist and current rhythm guitarist Diabolic Gulgalta. Those two albums made Negative Plane legendary in the USBM underground, and for good reason, their unique style of black metal which to simplify; mixes first and second wave black metal to create a very unique and unhinged style of black metal that’s simultaneously vintage yet fresh. However, for whatever reason, after their sophomore record the band was partially on hiatus, with irregular live performances and the inclusion of bassist Thammuz being their only activity for 11 years, that is until now.

In ‘The Pact…’ the band have completely refined their sound to absolute perfection, the combination of raw and decrepit sounding riffs with dark, almost psychedelic atmospheres that the truly devoted will recognize as Negative Plane’s unmistakable sound is still here and, as I’ve said, perfected. However, while Negative Plane has more than earned its place among the best of USBM, there’s something different to ‘The Pact…’ that the previous two records didn’t have, which is also what makes this album stand out and is also their best work yet in an already impressive body of work, and that’s the fact that Negative Plane is now a full fledged band, and that’s what members Diabolic Gulgalta and Thammuz brought, their presence and contributions, as well as their excellent skills fully enhanced the music, and perfectly complement the core duo of Nameless Void and Bestial Devotion, and while NV continues to be the main composer and lyricist of the band, one could say that having his outstandingly talented bandmates at his side fully and completely realize his vision.

‘The Pact…’ is a concept album, with an overarching story, and while you can enjoy the music by itself, the music is directly tied to the concept and it actually dictates the overall mood, which for this particular record is one of a cursed church from its construction, to its destruction and ending with a mansion that was built on the same ground, and I bring this up because people shouldn’t go in expecting the hits, (the opening track, which served as the lead single is over 10 minutes), as this is an album experience. That’s not to say there aren’t highlights, the opener ‘A Work to Stand a Thousand Years’ sets the mood perfectly and is also a good sampler of the album as a whole, the unhinged finger tapped riffs, classic heavy metal drumming, the demonic growls of Nameless Void, and the odd song structures. More importantly, the already mentioned fact of this album having a full line-up giving the music more dynamics and yet its still consistent with the bands previous work, and on top of that, the band’s performance as a unit is sufficiently engaging and varied enough to keep the energy and momentum for a full near hour long concept album with songs between the 7 to 16 minute mark is jaw dropping. Even the under two minute instrumental ‘The Wailing of the Immured’ interlude which bridges the first side of the album with the second is also very memorable and ear catching, which is impressive considering it’s just a cello, credited to Marcel Krasner, and guitar melody.

The final aspect I wanted to highlight is all the technical aspects, with the production being the first, mainly because hearing this record in relation to the previous albums is fascinating, mainly because Negative Plane while they’ve never had the ultra primitive raw production of second wave black metal, but they’ve also never had a super clean production, and that continues to be the case for this record, albeit, with a significant boost in audio quality, when in comparison to the previous records. The overall audio quality is actually very reminiscent of 1980’s heavy metal record in the vein of Mercyful Fate, everything sounds clear and natural, the drumming and bass work in particular have a very blunt force sound without being overwhelming or overexposed in the mix. The guitars continue to be main standout, and aside from both Nameless Void’s and even Diabolic Gulgalta’s superb performances, the guitar tonne is the most striking aspect, the sound is piercing and distinct but its not overpowering, this has always been the case for Negative Plane but much like the rest of this album, this is a refinement and evolution from the past. With that said, and finally, that brings me to the actual instrumentation, which yes, is excellent, each and every member is a talented and skilled musician in their own right, and they all work excellent as a unit, and indeed what makes the music so good is how even the instrumentation has that balance of complexity and primitiveness, the finger tapped riffs being followed by very stripped solos being one of the most overt displays of that.

Overall and in conclusion, while it does suck that there was over a decade wait time to get a new Negative Plane record, after hearing ‘The Pact…’, near overzealously I might add, I can safely say that it was worth the wait, and it’s without a doubt, the best metal album of 2022, I’m sure there will be more records, but I doubt they’re gonna top ‘The Pact…’.

Best tracks: ‘A Work to Stand a Thousand Years’, ‘Even the Devil Goes into the Church’, ‘The Other Door’, ‘And So It Came to Pass’.

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