Chances are if you've been to a death metal show in Pennsylvania you've seen the black-vested members of the PADM. A tight-knit community, they are but one chapter of many state Death Militias that have been carrying the torch for underground death metal for years now. Among this horde stands Oz Yolaçan, frontman for the band Neldöreth. As the president of the PADM upstate chapter, he's been a fixture at pretty much every death metal show in the area. I've seen Neldöreth on a few occasions with various lineups, including Oz going solo over tracked instruments, or with a guitarist and programmed drums. He's never let a lack of a band or band members stop him from spreading his blasphemous, anti-Christian messages.

And yet, it can be difficult, especially in small venues with questionable sound systems, to really get the vibe of a band's music. While the visual element is there, complete with inverted crosses and Oz drenched in blood, it was always hard for me to make out what the music was like. Maybe it's because I am 40 and half deaf, I don't know, but when I got a chance to hear Neldöreth's latest release, I jumped at it.

What I expected to hear was your standard black metal fare. Blast beats, lo-fi production, guitars with lots of high end, little to no bass, and vocals that were way too loud. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you, but it was what I expected. What I heard was not that at all. What I heard was a very mature Neldöreth, one that has shaken off the training wheels of black metal 101 and introduced their own fusion of black, death, doom, and even punk in some spots.

The album begins with the pipe organ intro Diabolicae Baptismum before shredding into the blazing-fast Baptized in Blasphemy. This is enough to satisfy the bullet points of blackened old-school death metal, but even here you can see the music starting to break the confines of genre. Darrell Creel's guitar solos add a dimension that creates depth and color in an otherwise gray-scale musical format. This continues on throughout Saints as the music freely creates the backdrop for Oz's high-pitched shrieking growls. The album continues through the d-beat inspired tempo of Christian Despotism, the ritual chanting of Seven Chalices, the trudging drone of Ritual Suicide, and the almost groove-riff laden Abomination Proclaimed Through Heresy, which features the vocals of Dana Duffey of Demonic Christ.

Saints is a great example of how this dynamic works- the music creates the mood, the vocals and lyrics tell the story. It may seem like this should be elementary songwriting but it's not that easy to pull off. A good balance is hard to achieve, and oftentimes, one is trying to outshine the other. Not so with Neldöreth here. There is a maturity to this record that I just did not expect.

What is next for Neldöreth remains shrouded in the mists. The band continues to have lineup issues. Darrell Creel is no longer with the band, and as of this writing they are currently seeking a drummer and guitarist. However, Oz is not relenting. He has vowed to regroup and forge on. With Saints as their latest release, finding members to flesh out the lineup shouldn't be too difficult. It's a strong release with a shit-ton of potential; yet another Pennsylvania metal band pushing the boundaries ever forward.

Neldöreth proudly bear the tattered banner of underground metal, but this time, the strength and purpose of the music can't be dismissed. While this style of music will always be fighting uphill against a tide of mass-marketed mainstream fluff, those who like something a bit more feral will love what Neldöreth has to offer.