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Contender for greatest tech death ever - 100%

Samtropy, September 10th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, Prosthetic Records (Digipak, Limited edition)

Hour of Penance is neither the most distinctive and original band, the most tight and technical, nor the most consistently well-produced. In fact this album includes none of their original members, has a slightly off-balance mix, and doesn't sound much different from their previous 3 albums. So why do I think this is one of the best tech death albums ever made?

The songwriting. Every single one of the 14 tracks on this album (the version that includes 3 bonus tracks) is composed with superlative care and quality. Riffs draw you in with relentless intensity and just the right balance of melody, groove, and incomprehensible fast and precise brutality. And while the gothic vibe is inescapable, the atmospheric nuances keep it fresh and intelligent at every turn. This is not one of those albums that has lots of atmospheric filler and ominous interstitial music (although I do enjoy this from Vader, Ade, Bloodtruth, etc) -- it weaves the atmosphere right into the brutal sound. So the experience of listening to this album is more like being in the room with an enthusiastic band just rocking out, and that room happens to also include magical gargoyls or something. There's a lot of catchy melodic riffs with just the right amount of repetition to balance the near relentlessly thick and fast pace of technical grinding.

Paolo Pieri really settles in here on his second outing with the band as vocalist, lyricist, and second guitarist. I honestly haven't read too much into the words here, but they seem to fit the imagery and vocal performances perfectly. His vocal pace and delivery isn't as distinctively fast and frantic as his predecessor Francisco Paoli who left the band a few albums back to form Fleshgod Apocalypse, but it's honest, strong, and fits the music perfectly. Although too low in the mix, Marco Mastrobuono brings a distinct personality the bass parts, which reward repeated close listens. Drummer James Payne (here on his only album with the band) really shines with a wide range of insanely fast and technical beats and fills that support the song above all else. He also does an interesting backwards sort of blast beat with what sounds like a secondary piccolo snare. Lots of color on the drum sounds and performance. The only negative to the album is the rhythm guitar tone, which is a bit over-processed sounding, and probably a bit loud in the mix. Solos are melodic and well-composed, with zero flashy shreddery. Just solid intelligent lead lines.

Highlights are too numerous to list (every single track is perfect), but the easiest song to get hooked would be "Resurgence of the Empire". Recommended if you like 2000's era Behemoth, early Fleshgod Apocalypse.