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One of the most unique and coriaceous Death Metal bands on the Italian soil delivers its second studio effort after a regular two-year absence, which they had spent promoting their debut album "Disturbance". Most significantly, "Pageantry for Martyrs" showcases some substantial line-up changes, namely youth guitarist Giulio Moschini replacing Francesco De Honestis, and Alex of Necrotorture fame filling in since the sudden departure of founding singer Mike Viti, and quickly turning from a last-minute addition into a permanent member. Bass duties on the record were performed by both guitarists right before Silvano Leone joined in.
Be aware that Hour of Penance is not one of those bands willing to re-invent its own sound on each new release: they advance by progressive adjustments, and mean to show with each recording how imperfect the previous one was. As for the songwriting quality and influences, nothing is left over from "Disturbance", so you can still expect the high-paced blend of modern Death Metal styles with a glance at some older pioneers, though their original Deicide-ish backbone is slowly drifting away.
Typically, each song displays at least one of their singular influential styles, spanning from late Deeds of Flesh and Hate Eternal on the opening track, to the unfailing Immolation mid-paced power in "End of Relief"; from a reference to post-Barnes Cannibal Corpse on "Naked Knife Absolution" and early Sinister on "Exiled Innocence", to a surprising Vader-like turn on the closing "Egomanisch". Still, songs like "Far Beyond Humiliation" are there to prove that nothing from "Disturbance" was lost.
The album's clean production quality adds up by correcting the flaws on the previous disc such as the small bandwidth reserved to guitar solos. The vocals delivered by Alex are efficient and clearer than his predecessor, and perfectly fit the band's musical and lyrical style, expressing their discomfort for this world in turmoil, with a touch of sci-fi literature.
In a few words, "Pageantry for Martyrs" is NOT meant to change anyone's mind about Hour of Penance, unless you were expecting them to refine what they had previously done. If you let yourself go with the flow of the many worthy bands that spawned overseas (Vile, Disgorge(US) etc.) and across Europe over the last few years, then Hour of Penance is Italy throwing its two cents into this modern Death Metal fire pit. My rating reflects the chance for them to make it even better someday.