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I never got around to reviewing Passiondale in the end. It was comfortably inside my top 5 albums of last year, and before it has even left my regular playlist or the front of my mind the followup is out and looks to attain almost the same glorious placement by December.
God Dethroned stick with the WWI theme that drove the 2009 opus, and it seems to be the thing that's behind their unprecedented acceleration into a top contender for the position of most exciting black/ death metal group on the market. The blasting drums and raging twin guitar frenzy perfectly paint the harrowing, quickly turning battles the lyrics describe. Henri Sattler's recent preoccupation with these grim subjects has encouraged him to create the only songs merciless enough to put the listener in the path of these battles - fast, unrelenting, anthemic extreme metal.
With that in mind this will be one of those occasional reviews where the lyrics seriously impact my impression of a black/ death metal record."Fight for your country - die for the glory" spits Sattler on the grimly entitled 'The Killing is Faceless'. While the killing might be impersonal, the lyrics insist that the soldiers themselves are not faceless, and that in their deaths they attained a moment of glory beyond the agenda of the rulers and politicans who put them in trenches and on blood-sodden fields. This is part of the ideological appeal of God Dethroned for me. While Hail of Bullets are heavy artillery and Marduk are a self-proclaimed panzer division, these guys are more like a band of veteran squaddies. Translating that into war metal terms gives you mostly short, intense songs with little room for breathers.
It gets going even faster than Passiondale. Violent headbanging commences as soon as the intro leads into 'Storm of Steel'. The riffs are sharp as fire-hardened spears, the drums are tighter than the British coalition government's public spending budget, and Henri Sattler ignites it all in vocal ruin and flame. The bulk of the brief album plays like a furious blend of Immortal and Vader. The band's previous outings seem distilled and fortified here: it accelerates the more melodic and expansive aesthetic of The Lair of the White Worm - a LOT - and gives the blackened death metal of Bloody Blasphemy the solid production carapace of that album.
The album barely lets up at all throughout the vicious first eight tracks, breaking only for some well-written guitar solos and a single clean vocal appearance on the title track. The latter goes for more of an 'epic' feel in keeping with the previous album, and I do wish that the soaring clean vocals had been used more often, seeing as they worked so well during last year's campaign. The closer is a 7:30 piece, more propulsive drumming and fierce riffs coupled with slower breaks; some martial and some melodic. Playing out mournfully the track allows for all the reflectiveness the preceding seven didn't make time for, and although it's fairly conventionally structured it makes for a grand closer.
Under the Sign of the Iron Cross is truly angry and unstoppable, maintaining hysterical paces and technically amazing musicianship throughout - without stopping off to let you actually notice much beyond the relentless onslaught of neck-snapping black/ death metal. It's minimalist and very focused. It's far more straightforward, it doesn't evolve the sound the band is going for but rather concentrates it. Credit to them for not repeating their formula here.
In terms of riff composition and instrumental execution it's perfect, the only very minor complaint being that there are a few less standout moments that floor me. But very few bands have recorded two albums as good as Passiondale within two years. This is still top notch stuff and probably an equal second best with Bloody Blasphemy. I'd recommend it among the top ten of the year and consider it mandatory listening.