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God Dethroned took no small task in manifesting such a release, but I feel as though they effectively channeled the horrors of war into this album without taming it. Bolt Thrower can be seen as the be all / end all of war-themed death metal, but God Dethroned got the job done in their own way, just as this particular war should be looked at in its own way. While the Battle Of Passchendaele (1917) (the spelling is all jacked up, but “Passchendaele” is the English documented spelling) wasn’t the most costly single battle of the war (that unfortunate distinction goes to the Battle Of The Somme (1916)), it was downright one of the most horrific: men were killed in the most appalling ways, conditions were beyond shocking, hope continued to fade, and the situation looked bleaker than ever. Casualties were staggering on both sides and the battle bogged down into another bloody stalemate. Passiondale is an album that depicts this battle musically from the optimistic start of the offensive, through the nasty standstill, and on to the finishing push.
It’s a lot of history to take in all at once, but the band redefined their existence with this move. Hearing this album makes me respect the history so much more, thus helping me give harmony to a (through pictures and video) silent war. The whole album captures the carnage, chaos, bloodshed, and intense aggression while still holding on to melody and a formidable style. The austerity and poignant emotions flow naturally through each song while not sounding clichéd or overvalued whatsoever. The peak of all these emotions can be heard in the more tuneful sections, such as the outro to “Poison Fog” or the driving melody of the title track. In “Poison Fog,” there’s a timeless climax that occurs in the middle (with the cleans) and with the outro. When this outro occurred, it felt like the whole conflict took a dive in slow motion: the battlefield fixed in a moment of serenity, men catching one last breath as they move forward, gunners praying for forgiveness, and the artillery showing one last moment of mercy. I thought during this pivotal moment, “This scene could use a charging double bass and a solo." So what do you know, God Dethroned delivered just that. Such spirited harmonies lie throughout this album with each song, and I have yet to find a dull moment that doesn’t evoke feelings such as this.
Henri Sattler contributed all the guitar parts and vocals, which is quite a spectacle since he sounds overwhelmingly dominant. He represents the British and German pieces of the battle – much of the music is devoted to his leads, rhythm, and terrifying vocals. His style his a hefty, beastly growl that suits the theme really well, but he also applies clean vocals in rare fashion and only at the proper times. These cleans don’t sound diluted and are key in their respective places, providing a more heartfelt touch to the already grievous tone. Guitars are booming, powerful, extremely varied in craft, and never let up the carnage. There’s a great sense of melody without watering down the mood of the songs, and much of this is present in even the most straightforward ways. The atmosphere of the album is focused, tight, and varied when need be, providing for an all around enjoyable experience on different levels.
Bass I’m surprised to find actually provides more than just backing of the rhythm, since essentially it could have done well just doing that. Nay, I find third grooves to be complimentary to the supporting offensive of this entire album. It acts much in the same way as the Anzacs, who were a loyal and devastating key player against the Germans not only during the battle, but also to the Central Powers during the entire war. The album bows to the might of the bass, which isn’t drowned under the bloodbath but doesn’t steal the show either. Drumming I expected to be grouped with countless other bands, but I’m astounded at the amount of detail in patterns and changing rhythms that Roel Sanders employs. This guy is a maniac, catering to different ways to inflict maximum damage in the field. I find myself becoming engrossed to his playing as he adjusts speeds, dips in double bass, accounts for all blast beat casualties, and makes playing the drums seem more fun than playing the guitar.
Everything from the note of the lead at 1:27 on “Behind Enemy Lines” to the tom being hit at 2:37 of “Under A Darkening Sky” to just about anything on this album is marked by outstanding production. Considering the type of album this is supposed to be, everything sounds rich and balanced; it’s polished, but not burnt out to take away the qualities it worked for. Since the album traces the battle itself, it closes much in the same way with extra care and precision put forth to capture the listener and throw them into the last flickering inferno. This represents how the Canadians were forced to overcome all obstacles in capturing the village of Passchendaele during the final stages of the battle, thus securing a costly victory for the Entente while immortalizing themselves in history.
I’d highly, highly recommend you check out this album and all it encompasses. You may not take it in as heavily as I have, but that’s all right if you see if for what it is: and ode to those who fought in the battle and, overall, the war that stripped humanity of its virtue greater than anything before it. Never had humans taken part in such a travesty against each other on such a scale, but it wouldn’t be the last time we made such a mistake.