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I was wrong... they don't still have it (edited) - 68%

Cynical, December 27th, 2004

Here it is: the new album from Immolation. For several years, Immolation has been perhaps the most consistently excellent band in death metal; with each album, a listener knew what they were getting, but at the same time, the albums weren't re-treads of each other, each one blazing new grounds: "Dawn of Possession" being a foundational album for NYDM; "Here in After" and "Failures for Gods" both being massively twisted rhythmic beatings with a sense of dissonant chord, the latter being more advanced than the former; "Close to a World Below", while not quite as structurally complex as "Failures for Gods", brought a stronger sense of dissonant melody to the proceedings and managed to succeed at being one of the most atmospheric death metal recordings ever; and "Unholy Cult" brought a sense of epic-ness to the table that had been present in a few of their songs, and also saw the band using layers and counterpoint melodies more extensively than before, but at a cost; the rhythmic violence was toned down somewhat compared to previous efforts, and the time signatures were noticeably more straightforward.

This leads us into the first possible issue that can be leveled against "Harnessing Ruin": seven of the songs on this album really bring nothing new to the table. Brutal and dissonant death metal riffs at a moderate to fast pace that focus on both the sequencing of chords and their harmonics against each other are played over drums that offer another layer of rhythm and control the dynamics of each song; relying on a double kick with fills matching the guitars on top on the softer parts, and a blast beat on the louder ones. Bass acts as a separate instrument, rather than simply backing up the guitar or drums, and in spots with layered melody and no guitar soloing, is usually the source of the less dominating one. The bassy roar of Ross Dolan over the top of the album acts as another, much slower, rhythm instrument, falling into a cadence that mimics that of the guitar, each vocal line beginning and ending punctually with the riff. Leads, rather than being insanely atonal, take a melodic idea and play with it, letting it evolve through various ideas.

Verse-chorus structures place an emphasis on the extended middle section, itself having multiple motifs, some of which may repeat within that section, and place the guitar solo as the climax of the song and an essential structural element, rather than a flourish thrown in on top of these songs, that, when at their best, are quite warlike and have at the same time have a morbid nature, revealing a worldview in which death is looming large over the earth and ready to reap; however, a large portion of the album becomes far to rock 'n roll for its own good, with "Our Savior Sleeps" and "At Mourning's Twilight" featuring utterly sentimental melodic hooks, and "Dead to Me" and "Son of Iniquity" having as much angst as a mallcore band. Even the four stronger songs on offer here fail to have the power that previous ones did, seemingly decidedly lukewarm compared to previous offerings from this band.

The one song that isn't really described by the above, "Harnessing Ruin", is largely a "rock/death metal" song in which death metal ideas are put in a consistent, catchy, almost sing-along context in a manner similar to "Serpents of the Light" era Deicide; it manages to be better than the aformentioned Deicide album, but not up to this band's standard.

Production favors guitars and vocals, putting them at the top of the mix, with the bass and drums audible but not as prominent. The overall sound is very clear and doesn't end up in a rumbling morass like many other brutal death bands.

All in all, you've got four songs that aren't quite up to Immolation's standard, two songs featuring Immolation trying their hand at rock 'n roll, two songs with Immolation trying to fuse mallcore with death metal, and one Deicide retread. It's far from necessary; you'd be advised to seek out older, more powerful, works from this band.