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A History of Monarchy, Vol. 5: At Last, Cohesion - 87%

WhenTheHypeDies, June 8th, 2019

Coming off of a discography of highly varied quality, “Phoenix Amongst the Ashes” in its very name seems to be a statement that Hate Eternal has found a renewed purpose following its predecessor “Fury and Flames,” an album that is certainly unique and possessed of good material but which was undeniably imperfect. And purpose the band has certainly found. While Hate Eternal has written some of the better songs in the modern death metal genre, they have also floundered in some of the worst elements of modern death metal as well, preferring a high-bpm blast-reliant intensity that quickly transforms intensity into monotony over an album’s runtime. Well, “Phoenix Amongst the Ashes” not only delivers on the band’s penchant for memorable songwriting, but actually delivers something they have not exactly done yet: an actual solid, front-to-back, cohesive album.

The staples of Hate Eternal’s ethos remain; the band’s obsession with monarchy is made apparent on the opening track “The Eternal Ruler” which, following a brooding intro track, assaults the listener with a familiar but welcome barrage, relying on a rather formulaic song structure to deliver the band’s expected relentlessness. But thankfully, on this release, they have tempered some of their worst tendencies, especially the overreliance on blast-beats: while several songs of blast-centered intensity obliterate the listener, these tracks are regularly possessed of a greater degree of brutalistic nuance than they likely would have ended up with in the writing sessions for previous albums. “Thorns of Acacia” is a much more varied composition than HE typically offers where, despite its intensity, it thankfully does not rely on constant blasting, with bounding guitar-work during the more thrashy verses contrasting with the straightforward tremolo-riffs over the choruses, which drag the furious drums back into the realms of comprehensibility. “The Art of Redemption” is a surprising moment on the album, an over-the-top barrage of twin guitar noodling leading the entire opening minute of the song. Perhaps too insane for its own good, the rest of the song is a whirlwind that, again, disposes of HE’s crutch-like reliance on blast beats to deliver an overall more varied composition than may have been present on preceding albums. “Deathveil” and “Hatesworn” constitute a more straightforward section of HE song-writing, the bending insanity of “Deathveil’s” primary riffs an ear-catching motif. “Hatesworn” is a competent mid-paced track, however the tone and lyrical content is essentially a retread of “Fury Within” from the previous album.

While the above songs might constitute a welcome retreading of familiar territory, what elevates “Phoenix Amongst the Ashes” above its predecessors is its focus on mid-paced song-writing and atmospherics. Rutan has proven on previous albums that this project can competently build atmosphere, but it is here that this element of the band’s songwriting is made a focus of the album as a whole. “Haunting Abound” is perhaps the best “slow” track in HE’s oeuvre, a morose smoldering beast whose propulsion is a headbang-inducing but complex set of riffs, suddenly broken by an airy, chilling break at the heart of the song. The bass is also allowed to shine on this track, the lower register of the riffs allowing the murky clanking to drive the intensity – the lesson of better (if flawed) bass production on “Fury and Flames” clearly having clearly been learned. “Phoenix Amongst the Ashes” is another surprisingly mid-paced track that is tremendously atmospheric, a soaring tremolo-picked maelstrom underpinned by a gauntlet of double-bass. The song concludes with a warbling guitar solo tempest that fades away into the void, the title track demonstrating the full versatility of the band’s capabilities while focused on memorable riff-writing – the “chorus” of the song, a grinding, raking guitar drudge, is one that buries itself in the brain. “Lake Ablaze” and “The Fire of Redemption” bring this release to a close with two more memorable songs, “Lake Ablaze” a straightforward but effective release that – again – forsakes blast beats for variation, and the latter an epic conclusion to this magisterial statement.

At long last, Hate Eternal has produced an album that, from this reviewer’s perspective, is unequivocally worth listening to for the duration of its runtime. No qualifications, no “well, I’ll just check them out live,” no “let’s just make a playlist of the best cuts.” “Phoenix Amongst the Ashes” is a solid, if not exactly innovative, piece of writing that has some spectacular modern death metal compositions, a unifying thematic purpose, and a couple of honest-to-God surprises. If there was any Hate Eternal album worth shelling out some hard-earned bucks for, or trying to convince the unbelievers with, this is it. A phoenix emerges, indeed…