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The long-awaited eleventh album, the successor of the virulent, crushing Virus: A Taste of Extreme Divinity had huge shoes to fill and a legacy to hold together. After a rather long period of many repeated listens and analyses, I can safely say that this album lives up to Hypocrisy standard and, while not quite on the level of the band’s best albums, is a monumental piece of work by itself.
A comparative analysis between the album opener, Valley of the Damned, and its predecessor, the classic Warpath, works as a good comparison for the albums themselves. Aggression, power, strength, harshness and, most important of all, excellent songwriting, all those elements are present in Valley of the Damned. The song is, by all measurable accounts, great, but at the same time it doesn’t feel like a legendary Hypocrisy opener as was Warpath or several earlier numbers.
A Taste of Extreme Divinity feels more direct than every other album in the band’s career, having a particularly loud production and an emphasis on creating a wall of sound. Technicality, especially concerning Horgh’s highly impressive drumming skills, which are used to their fullest capacity for the first time on a Hypocrisy record, is emphasized on the album. His beats are always interesting to listen to and awe-inspiring, while several moments such as on Weed out the Weak and Tamed (Filled with Fear) are pure highlights largely due to his outstanding work. This attention towards the drums’ quality doesn’t conflict with the extremely proficient guitar playing, which Peter Tägtgren never abandons throughout the record. However, what he keeps in terms of high-quality riffs and in the infusion of an atmosphere of aggression, he abandons in pure technicality and flashiness (no major solos are to be found here). This is in no way a problem however, as Hypocrisy has always been about writing appropriate, powerful music and not about showing one’s skills off.
Another major defining element of Hypocrisy’s signature sound (with the exception of the first two albums of course) is Peter Tägtgren’s unrelenting vocal work. In this case, the totality of the vocals are pure harsh growls, which in his particular case are impressive in that, after a certain number of listens, every single word becomes imprinted in the listener’s mind. He has the rare gift of being able to make the most inhuman of growls and yet make his lyrics understandable: for example, I know their classic Fire in the Sky by heart without ever having actually read the lyric sheet, and several of the songs here are developing in a similar direction.
A Taste of Extreme Divinity is a perfect example of a grower, an album which will sound decent, perhaps even unimpressive yet with a few highlights, yet with subsequent listens will become more and more enjoyable until reaching a level of proximity with the listener that all classic metal albums possess. This was the case here, as I know consider almost every song to be a killer and a highlight in its own right whenever listened to individually. These include the first six tracks (with the very slight reservations towards the previously mentioned Valley of the Damned) as well as the memorable and intense Alive, the slow-paced The Quest and the all-round beastly Tamed (Filled with Fear). Unfortunately, the title track isn’t quite as good despite some extremely solid riffs and vocal lines towards the middle, as it attempts to be a more brutal death metal track and ends up feeling insufficient. Similarly, Sky’s Falling Down is a pretty good song, with a lot of excellent moments, yet the driving force of the song simply doesn’t feel right due to that imperfect, almost awkward beginning, and a strange overall structure.
Lyrically speaking, this album may very well be the band’s most varied. All the themes of previous records surface here, from war (Valley of the Damned) to gory criminality (Hang Him High), wanton violence (Weed out the Weak), all inconspicuously mixed with the band’s signature fascination with extraterrestrial influence (Solar Empire, Global Domination) and some anti-Christian sentiment (Alive). All these themes are approached intelligently and originally, and they make for genuinely interesting lyrics to read and analyse.
Upon first experiencing it, A Taste of Extreme Divinity may be disappointing to a considerable number of Hypocrisy fans due to its apparently being generic in comparison to its predecessors. However, that’s a potentially shallow viewpoint because all Hypocrisy albums are meant to be enjoyed after a number of spins, which is when their brilliance can be rendered fully apparent. Although it’s not as brilliant as some of the other’s other masterpieces, this is a great album and it certainly proves Hypocrisy’s capacity of writing high-quality music even today. That, and its cover art is exceptionally powerful, evocative and just plain appropriate for the music within.