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And then there was “Unholy Cult” to exceed. An immense task I’d say.
I don’t know if the band thought that as well when they started to write material for the “Harnessing Ruin” album, but I held my breath so to speak. Not that I thought Immolation couldn’t do it, but “Unholy Cult” simply begs for an even more devastating follow-up, or an album that forces a breakthrough to a larger audience, with all kinds of consequences.
Would Immolation mellow out? Would they play on safe? Or could it be that they would scorch their way through metal history with an even more monumental album?
And then there was “Harnessing Ruin”, an album of which I can honestly say that this is the kind of record that makes it all worthwhile listening to this kind of noise all these years. An album that makes it easier to listen through those endless amounts of musical mediocrity and faceless copycats in order to challenge me to actually go and search for something I can criticise, of which I could say ‘hmmm, this could be a lot better if…’.
I was rather sceptic at first, ladies and gentlemen. The online pre-release of the “Harnessing Ruin” video also strengthened the anticipation. Being a very powerful, transparent song with epical riffs and a feel which I could only describe using the word ‘swinging’, this was quite unlike the material featured on “Unholy Cult”. Like some crack addict I instantly craved for more.
When the promo fell on my experienced doormat and I started listening to the eight other tracks I was rather disappointed. The tracks did not immediately grab me by the throat like they used to do. With a more epical, melancholical approach Immolation sounded… different to me. The fact that two new band members joined in over the last two years (guitarist Bill Taylor [ex-Angel Corpse], replaced Tom Wilkinson and drummer Steve Shalaty replaced drum monster Alex Hernandez) added to a somewhat ‘well… I guess it’s an okay album’-attitude. In short: to be honest, I didn’t what to think.
Until I listened more often, again and again, while the music settled in my brain, the atmosphere
Like some kind of slow venom the insane chords and compositions make their way into the bloodstream, the grim and desolate atmosphere pressing heavily, the music marching forward with unstoppable force. Again, “Harnessing Ruin” has its’ own distinctive sound (once again Immolation relied on Paul Orofino, who gave the record a sober but powerful production), in one way differentiating from it’s predecessor, in yet another way containing all those typical Immolation trademarks: solos from Hell, über-catchy, sometimes even melancholical riffing, pounding drums (“Crown the Liar”) and the ever-present breaks.
This time however, things are approached slightly different, the emphasis being on the aforementioned grimness and desolation… like the tracks “Dead To Me” (especially the end of the track) and “Our Saviour Sleeps”, including the well known anti-religious lyrics which add to the total because Ross Dolan has such a characteristic, audible grunt which enables you to actually understand the lyrics without the lyrics sheet at hand, a feat that’s not exactly new, but which is adding some real extras this time.
Let’s not forget the presence of epic characteristics that are also Immolation trademarks (“Son of Iniquity”; “At Mourning’s Twilight”), but often the tracks are a blending of different atmospheric elements. The overall tempo of “Harnessing Ruin” is somewhat slower than its’ predecessor and this too adds to the heaviness of the album.
“Harnessing Ruin” has become a monster album, hardly comparable with it’s predecessor because there isn’t any consolidation, i.e. playing on safe. Although being typical Immolation, the music takes a different direction on its’ way to monumental proportions, creating an apocalyptical, atmospheric gloom that’s almost unequalled in this style of metal.
And perhaps my perception of the album is all but simple. Perhaps these guys thought along the lines of ‘well, let’s write some shit and record it’… without apparent effort, without any difficulty.
If this is so, then it’s a feat that’s only achieved by the greatest of innovators. All hail Immolation!