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Even though metal dudes can appear tough and even scary on the outside, there are often really nice guys under all the hair, black cotton, pentagrams and beer stains. The fact that death metal stalwarts and legends Immolation released a cool little EP called ‘Providence’ that is free to anyone and everyone showcases how much looks can be deceiving (or, maybe it’s my inherent predisposition to judging!). Granted, I was surprised to learn that it was presented by the hipster box car peddlers Scion (who also put out the pretty sweet Enslaved EP ‘The Sleeping Gods’) , who have hamsters dancing to LMFAO’s ‘Party Rock Anthem’ in their commercials. I am not sure how I feel about that, but if they keep aligning themselves with great acts, then I might find myself wearing a tracksuit and rolling around in one of their rides doing the party shuffle…which I guess is the point right?
Anyway, it also helps that Immolation is awesome. It’s not eloquent, but it’s true. There are a lot of free downloads (legal and illegal) on the web, but when such a great group says ‘up yours’ to profit motive (sans Scion?), it really says something about character. These guys care about their fans, and they always deliver when it comes to their music, attitude, and…awesomeness. Again, not eloquent, but true.
In the time since their last full length ‘Majesty and Decay’ (with its very death metal album cover…and the same goes for this one!), the group has been touring steadily. They had just finished roaming the venues of America and Canada with the likes of slammers Jungle Rot (who always deliver the best caveman metal around) and wild tech-deathers Gigan. It made me very sad that the tour passed up Northern California, as I would have greatly savored another chance to see Immolation live again with such great supporting acts. When I was lounging outside the Boardwalk in January 2010 waiting for them to start, I didn’t realize that the band had gone on so I missed half of their set. I was very mad at myself. Woe is me!
Now in 2011, ‘Providence’ continues the high standard that the New Yorkers place upon the music they make. All five tracks on the album are blunt and to the point, and as a result the band is much less complex than on some of their past works, which is much more in character with a shorter recording. But each cut retains the warm (an understatement) atmosphere present in the half melodic half crushing guitar tone and full drum tones. Bob Vigna crafts some of the greatest transitions and dissonances this side of Gorguts, and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The production sounds a little quiet, but I guess we will just have to pump up the volume to our discretion. How else is death metal to be played? If it’s not pissing someone off then you need to turn it up! But of course, the music means much more than that.
There is no wasted time here, no ambient build up or feedback call and response on the no-nonsense opener ‘What They Bring’ which leads seamlessly into the rest of the work. The slamming tremolo slashes paired with the lower end pummels on the title track no doubt led to much moshing on the road and the continued breaking of windows at home. The most well conceived track for me is the final one, ‘Swallow the Fear,’ which uses a very emotional guitar motif throughout that builds a sense of passion and struggle against a great obstacle. One of the great aspects of the track as well as other past works is that the phrasing of Ross Dolan’s signature vocals (see the close of ‘Fall From A High Place’). There is always a great sense of dynamism between his narrations and the music that illustrates them. A short burst of music, a few words. A break, a similar breaking trail of growls that do not rely on generic punk derived spitting (not that punk spitting is a bad thing)
What makes the vocals even more unique is that their lyrical themes have a very humanist and moral bent to them, even if they attack Christianity and other topics without mincing their words. This is not a bloodthirsty abomination from the dark places of the universe calling out to us; it is a disgruntled and driven human being who roars with an inner heat. And in opposition to the other methods inherent in death metal, this approach belies a great level of emotional experience and sympathy for the moment where a believer loses his/her faith (‘Our Savior Sleeps’ even hints at a desire for someone to come and save us and our world, and 'Father Your Not a Father' leans towards possible sympathy for the J man!).
While the lyrics on ‘Providence’ do not address their subject in the potent way showcased previously, there is an almost political bent to them here. And through it all, comes the fact that the world continues to spiral downwards at the cost of millions of people’s lives and sanity, again, they do not hedonistically revel in the violence like many other groups. While I am not sure of the group’s political inclinations, I cannot help but draw a connection to the Occupy movement, even if the album was recorded before it began in New York City. Whatever comes to mind when you hear the music and read the lyrics, its potent stuff a cut above the usual blasphemy.
The group has been around for over 20 years, a fact vocalist Ross Dolan made clear when I saw them last year. “This is a song off of our first album, which is probably older than some of you!” That was not the first or last time I heard such a statement. One of the sad facts about attending shows with older groups in the lineup is that it makes me feel that I do not deserve to be around the genre. I hear a lot of the tape trading scene of the past, and how it inspired explicit physical connections between a then much smaller fanbase all over the world. The internet robs much of the mystery of finding such groups and becoming a part of the culture in which they reside in. It simply cannot happen anymore, and this goes for nearly every fan driven genre of music, be it Hip-Hop, punk or even avant-garde. Everyone likes death metal, from the old guard that supported the New York, Florida and Swedish scenes to the scene kids that gather at the Boardwalk here in Sacramento (well, the latter group means well!). And people (like I) who find such music through the techno-portal can simply amass knowledge and love for the music apart from its heart. In a way, I am killing metal, and by association, killing music! But Immolation knows that the times are changing…and thus, we look into the depths with ‘Providence’ today.
Recommended, along with everything else the band has done. Class acts all around.
Originally Published for examiner.com http://www.examiner.com/review/mandatory-download-immolation-s-providence