Written by John Angel
Screaming Banshee – Pierceive
Progressive death metal from Rome, Italy
Releases April 30th, 2021 via Cult of Parthenope
Let’s talk about the differences between string quartets and symphony orchestras. Yes, this is an album review for a death metal band. Just hear me out for a paragraph. In the classical music world, symphonies are the expressive zenith for composers. Think of Beethoven’s monumental symphonies and the massive works of Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. A wide range of instrumental colors and dynamics are available in the crafting of a symphony and one can make damn near any sound they want if they know what they’re doing. A string quartet on the other hand is but two violins, a viola, and a cello. A severely limited color palette compared to a symphony orchestra but ask any fan of Johannes Brahms and talk your ear off about how much music you can fit in a string quartet. Where a symphony is bombastic and emotionally over-the-top, a string quartet is often esoteric and rewards close listening to discover the music’s secrets.
Prog metal can be similarly divided. The music of Devin Townshend and others of his ilk are on the expressive side of things. Hevy Devy incorporates a huge variety of sonic material into his records and expresses a wide range of emotions, much like the Romantic-era composers of symphonies. Then you have bands like Obscrura and Death who utilize the much smaller sound palette typically associated with death metal but still cram an amazing amount of music into their compositions and rewarding listeners with something they didn’t notice before on every listen. Screaming Banshee, a prog death metal outfit hailing from Rome, Italy, sits squarely in the tradition of fitting an enormous amount of music into a smaller sound palette. Pierceive is their latest offering to the gods of economical music composition.
Now that I’ve compressed centuries of musical nuance and tradition into two paragraphs, its time to tell you, dear reader, that Pierceive is full of Great Fucking RiffsTM Screaming Banshee, in addition to their detailed songwriting, put on a masterclass of technical riffing. Every track barrels headlong through a wild gauntlet of catchy riffage and, more often than not, deftly transitions into moments of beautiful melodicism that prove you don’t need a full-blown symphony orchestra or a stable of guest musicians to achieve a wide range of emotional expression. Simone Ornati and Luca Ficorella have mastered the finer points of melting faces. Not to be outdone by his fleet-fingered comrades, drummer David Folchitto delivers a muscular and detailed performance that perfectly complements the group’s wild ass riffing. Marco Mastrobuono rounds out the bottom end of Pierceive with his duties as guest bassist in the studio.
My favorite compositional device on Pierceive is Screaming Banshee’s use of abrupt changes in the rhythm and/or tempo in the middle of a track. You can guarantee my ears will perk up when you pull the rhythmic rug out from under my feet. Rhythm is the most visceral aspect of any music and having a spicy rhythm ensures you get butts moving and heads banging. “The Missing One” features the group’s best use of this device. We don’t have to listen long to hear it either; just 30 seconds into this track the band, all of a sudden, slow the riff down, nearly halving the tempo. We stay in this new tempo ever so briefly before flying back into the breakneck tempo the track starts with. We get another instance of this slow down before transitioning out of the intro/verse section and into the melodic chorus.
Another rhythmic device that Screaming Banshee seems to be very fond of is using the interplay of duple and triple pulse. For anyone who’s thinking “fuck you jargon man, use real words” I’m basically saying they like to switch up how they group the notes together in their riffs. Using duple pulse means they organize the notes in groups of two, triple in groups of 3. “Reality is Perception” offers a really tasty and easily perceived instance of this duple/triple interplay. From the start of the track to 1:05 we’re in the world of duple pulses. All of the rhythms are organized in groups and multiples of two*. Now, as the track approaches the 1:00 mark pay attention to the snare drum. At :59 it starts playing on every beat and there are four notes in the guitars and kick drum for every snare hit. Tap along with the snare. Once we hit 1:05 there’s a small pause and all of a sudden we have three notes in the amount of time we previously had four. This kind of delightful rhythmic nuance is all over the record and I think it’s the thing that Screaming Banshee does best.
(* There’s actually some groups of 7 but those are played like groups of 8 that are missing one.)
I’ve got a couple of gripes with this record. First, a lot of the more melodic playing feels a little stiff. Whenever a solo isn’t shredding the phrasing can feel like it meanders, like it lost its way. That combined with a distinct lack of soulful or climactic vibrato leaves me wanting more from these sections. Second, the lead guitars sound out of tune in some places. Guitar is certainly an imperfect instrument when it comes to tuning and intonation but there’s just some moments when I get taken out of the music because I’m wondering how a tuning mistake made it past quality control.
All in all, Screaming Banshee offers up a riff-and-music-packed slab of a death metal record. A blizzard of riffs contrasted with beautiful melodic moments, detailed songwriting, and crisp production combine to make Pierceive a must-listen for death metal fans. Be sure to give it a spin when it drops April 30 via Cult of Parthenope!