Straight 8 Photo

Being of Lithuanian heritage, I am not a huge fan of anything related to the Soviet Union. Stalin and Khrushchev are responsible for nearly destroying my family tree. I have relatives that I will never know who are probably buried in some mass grave or, quite possibly, they are entombed in some building’s foundation in Siberia. For that reason, I have never really taken a liking to the AK-47. But being a gun nut, I wanted one in my collection, plus it was just a tool. There’s nothing scary or spooky about the AK-47. In fact, the AK is the most popular and widely used rifle in the world because of its reliability, low production cost, and ease of use. So, I needed one, at least to have one for reference.

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It has been years since I worked on the AK-47 & Soviet Weapons magazine, so my AK insider knowledge is a bit rusty. What was shocking to me was the prices of AK-47s. Gone are the days of finding one for $300. Most AKs are priced at a grand and go up from there. I needed help. I reached out to six people telling them I was looking for my first AK, and all of them basically said, “Welcome to the dark side brother.”

The council advised me that the Century VSKA was a good rifle, and the problems from the past don’t seem to plague these rifles from Century. They also suggested some rifles from Arsenal, which are a bit more expensive but definitely seemed like a step above the rest of the AK market. But four of the six advised that I needed to get a rifle from Meridian Defense. In fact, two of the council members told me they are selling off their other AKs and are just collecting Meridian Defense’s rifles. That’s an endorsement if I ever heard one.

With that knowledge in hand, I reached out to Anthony “Tony” Arria, owner of Meridian Defense. We had a good conversation and found out how it all started. Tony, who unfortunately lives in California, wanted to buy an AK for himself but the company he wanted to buy from wouldn’t sell to him because of where he lived. So, he did the most American thing he could. He built himself one…and then started a business building them. Free-market capitalism works, and I hope Stalin is spinning in his grave.

Tony suggested I go for the 7.62x39mm Pestilence rifle that is part of their Apocalypse Series. The Apocalypse Series is a limited run of four rifles based on the four horsemen of the apocalypse. These rifles “have an end of the world apocalypse feel and looks, but without sacrificing Meridian’s build quality and precision parts…”

The Death is available now, while the other three are sold out. “Death” is based on an AK-74 with Bulgarian military parts kit, “Famine” is an AK-47 pistol with Romanian military parts kit, and “War” is built with original Yugo M72 RPK military parts kit.

While talking with Tony about the Pestilence rifle, he asked what number I would like painted on the side of the stock. I told him “76” for my birth year. Tony responded that if he had the parts, he would use original Romanian military parts from that year. If not, they would paint another number that corresponds with the original parts kit’s year. All and all, everything went along smoothly, except for the worst part—waiting. By the way, due to current demands and backorders, there is an estimated wait time of 50 weeks for a Pestilence rifle.

I have shot more than my fair share of AKs in my lifetime, and I was not expecting how much I would actually love it. Yes, I know, that’s a strong four-letter word, but it’s the truth. Before we get into the particulars, I need to say something. First, handling the rifle and pulling back on the bolt…oh man, it was butter! So smooth. And do yourself a favor and get the upgraded ALG trigger, which Meridian tunes and polishes. I never knew AKs could even have this fantastic of a trigger pull.

Meridian refinishes the entire rifle and then they hand work a Battleworn finish. There are no sharp edges anywhere on this rifle. The wood is stripped and refinished in their “Apocalypse” style stain. Overall, the Pestilence does have that “end of the world” look and feel to it, and the finish looks good on it. 

Pestilence Receiver Details

The receiver is built by Meridian and does include a receiver-mounted optics rail. This is paired with an Ultimak M1913 Picatinny gas tube upfront. They use Romanian military parts kits in their builds but use American-made 4150 CMV black nitride barrels. The barrel is 14.5 inches long with a pinned muzzle brake to achieve an overall length of 16 inches. You have eight choices of muzzle brakes, or you can even request one if it’s not listed. I asked Tony to recommend a muzzle for me and he went with Meridian’s BD2-51T. You also have an option to request a KNS adjustable gas system. This Pestilence will rarely be suppressed, so I didn’t see a need for one.

For the grip, they used the Tango Down AK grip, and the rifle comes with one Battleworn-finished AK magazine. Meridian also laser engraved on the rear sight block “Special Project Division,” along with their octopus logo. The fit, finish, and attention to detail on this AK are just insane.

Due to time constraints, I didn’t have a chance to shoot the Pestilence for accuracy. But from what I can tell from doing a little shooting with it, it will shoot sub-MOA. AKs are never really known for their accuracy, but Meridian is changing that. The ALG trigger definitely helps in that department, and it will be a must-have for all future AKs for me.

I don’t know what sort of Capitalist magic Meridian does to their AKs, but the Pestilence shoots flat. Recoil felt no worse than a 5.56mm AR. Magazine changes took a little practice; I kept knocking the magazine into the wooden foregrip. I know I am not the only one since there is an indent in the wood from countless times it has been dinged by a magazine.

I fed the Pestilence a diet of Century’s Red Army 122-grain FMJ and HSM 123-grain Hornady SST. It ate everything with aplomb and cycled flawlessly every time. It was really a joy to shoot it. In fact, I haven’t had this much fun on the range in a long time.

All this goodness that the Pestilence brings comes at a starting price of $2,149, and it is worth every penny. I would like to thank the Darkside Council for recommending Meridian and starting my love affair with the Kalashnikov. It looks awesome, shoots awesome, and just feels awesome. 

So, what’s next for Tony and the Meridian bunch? Well, they just started a new, unique series titled “Seven Sins.” “Lust” is already sold out but there will be six more limited edition runs of different rifles, and trust me, you’ll want to keep your eyes open for those. Check out what the dark side can offer at