Written by Kep
Bryan Eckermann – Plague Bringers
Blackened melodic death metal from Texas, USA
Releasing November 5 via independent/self-release
Bryan Eckermann is a storyteller. Yes, he’s a talented guitarist and a capable bassist, and yes, he can scream his lungs out with the best of them, but he’s a crafter of narratives, an evoker of emotions. Plague Bringers, his upcoming eighth solo album, is as sure an indicator of this as anything he’s ever released. It’s a concept album, and sure, that indicates storytelling, but what this is related to is the music itself, not the overarching plot behind it. The composition and the words of the individual songs weave worlds.
In case you’re not familiar, here’s the quick rundown: Bryan Eckermann is a multi-instrumentalist and producer out of Texas. “Prolific” is possibly the best descriptor here, because he cranks out material at a tremendous pace—13 full-length albums since 2011, under a few different banners, all of them unsigned/independent outfits for which he handles production. Plague Bringers is his eighth solo LP, plus he’s the driving force behind Scars of the Flesh, a project that released the criminally underrated Reaching into the Void last year, as well as lead guitar for death metal outfit Wings of Abbadon. The man keeps himself busy.
Now, the story within Plague Bringers is a complex one, as it’s a continuation of the narrative of Eckermann’s 2018 album Winters Plague (The Final Eclipse). The cliff-notes version is that Winters Plague told the tale of an alien invasion, where the aliens used their ship to block the sun and create a frozen wasteland. They failed, as the humans of earth rose up, destroyed their ship, and defeated them. Now, in Plague Bringers, those same aliens seek revenge; they resurrect their dead queen, clone an army, and use mind-manipulation to create mass human suicide, knowing all the while that the inevitable result of their vengeful mission will be their own deaths as well.
Now, if you think that’s all extremely fucking cool, that’s because it is! But here’s the thing: knowing the story is in no way necessary to enjoy the music of Plague Bringers. The songs themselves are each tales in miniature, with evocative melodies, driving drums and chugs, hauntingly lyrical solos, and the bitter chill of black metal elements flavoring it all. Of the 12 tracks, certain numbers do stand out; lead single and album opener “Ice Queen” is an excellent primer, an introduction of ghostly synths and imposing chords establishing a suitably epic feel for the subject matter before a primal scream signals the arrival of an energetic Hypocrisy-style riff that opens the melodeath slipgates. There’s a grandiose chorus, a bluesy solo that oozes prog metal vibes, and a subtle shift in lyrics near the end to cap the chapter of the story being told.
Eckermann acquits himself impressively as both a songwriter and an instrumentalist across the record’s runtime. The tone he gets in his guitarwork is well-balanced, with just enough buzz to make his grimmer riffs bite, while there’s the kind of clarity and warmth in the melodic work that’s inherently necessary. It’s the kind of balance that makes songs like standout track “Sands of the Hourglass” land with the appropriate emotional weight; beautiful simplicity in the introduction, a harsh edge to the chords beneath the verse, and then the regretful, heartfelt chorus riff emerges from the anger beneath it. Sometimes Eckermann lets his screams and aggressive chuggage take center stage, as he does in the headbang-worthy middle of “Reflections in a Dirty Mirror”, underscoring the hostile moments of his narrative; at others he paints a picture with his solos. He’s not really a shredder, although he certainly does shred from time to time (“An Oath of Scrying Souls” jumps immediately to mind). What he does consistently, though, is continue the story being told with writing that heightens the ideas of the lyrics. It’s hard not to be struck by the way that the guitar gives voice to the uncanny power of “Astral Realms” or the mournful existentialism of “Tomorrow’s Lie”.
The drums on Plague Bringers are programmed, and it’s worth mentioning that this is one of the best programming jobs I’ve heard on a solo record, in the sense that the entirety of it sounds convincing and the patterns feel like what a live drummer would play. In fact, Clinton Williamson, drummer of melodic deathcore outfit Darker by Design, guest programs on two tracks, and the fact that you can’t immediately hear a difference speaks to Eckermann’s understanding of the instrument. Eckermann also makes extremely tasteful use of synths; instead of plastering them all over, they’re layers that highlight moments and moods, like the haunting opening of “Moonlight and Frostbite” (which also features a rather spectacular guest vocal appearance from Stu Block!).
Now, Plague Bringers isn’t without its share of shortcomings. Most notably, it’s very long—67 minutes long, to be precise—and as a result it’s a tough album to get through in a single sitting. Maybe it’s a bit unfair to criticize a concept album for its length, but it’s a notable issue when I find myself expecting one or two more songs and check the tracklist to find that there’s still 25 minutes of music left. It’s compounded when you consider that many of the tracks have similar bones: quiet, atmospheric opening with synths and pseudospoken vocals, melodeath riff leading to a chorus with a simple melodic theme, solo, etc. In fact, the length issue would be partially mitigated if more tracks started straightaway without an intro. There are many short, quiet moments within the songs, too, which sometimes lessen the music’s impact instead of heightening it; I found this particularly pronounced in “Sands of the Hourglass”, where the words “I waste away as I wait to die” lead to a lengthy meditative passage, which is followed by a crying lyrical solo. To my ears, that solo would land with considerably more impact if it were directly connected to the lyrics.
All in all, though, Bryan Eckermann remains a storyteller of the highest order, and this is a tale that you should hear. From the galloping melodeath riffs, to the icy howls, to the nostalgic and emotive solos, Plague Bringers is full to the brim with delightful narrative musicmaking. Spend some time in Eckermann’s soundscape, and I bet you’ll be back for more.
Favorite track: Astral Realms