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Imperfect, but still awesome - 85%

chaossphere, May 5th, 2005

Ah yeah, Immolation. Quite possibly the most consistent death metal band in existence for a running total of 5 albums from 1991’s monolithic debut “Dawn Of Possession” through to 2002’s epic “Unholy Cult”, not to mention last year’s slightly flawed but ultimately great DVD release, these four lapsed catholics from Yonkers, NY have been churning out their own unique approach to dark, twisted atmospheric death metal and crushing all in their path for nigh on 20 years now, and show no sign of slowing down just yet. Album number 6, “Harnessing Ruin” marks the band’s second change of drummer since the first album, with Steve Shalaty replacing Alex Hernandez, who’s monstrous rolls and insane patterns were a huge part of what made their last 3 efforts so amazing. So, does the new guy measure up? Sort of. His actual performance is great, providing the usual monstrous tom-abuse and double bass thunder necessary to drive the rumbling, convoluted riffs, but he’s a bit hampered here by a weak, lifeless drum sound. Somehow, he’s been buried under a smoother, less gritty sound than we’ve become accustomed to. Overall though, this isn’t detrimental to the album and becomes much less noticeable once the songs kick in.

…and with that triviality out of the way, we can move onto the songwriting. I’ve found this album to be much more easily digested than any of the past four efforts. Perhaps it’s due to being more accustomed to Immolation’s trademark brand of dissonant composition, but the song do seem somewhat more melodic than before. They’re still groaning, twisted messes of heavy-as-lead death metal shot through with mind-bending lead guitar work, but there seem to be a lot more traditional scales involved here. This is nowhere near as jarring as “Here In After” or “Close to a World Below” – more of a logical progression from the last album, but further streamlined. As ever, Ross Dolan’s trademark vocals are guttural yet crystal-clear, absolutely no “deathvomit” to be found – just pure grit and nihilistic exclamation. It’s difficult to name standout tracks, as nothing really sticks out like previous “hits” such as No Jesus, No Beast or Close To a World Below to name a couple, although the title-track here has a particularly majestic main theme which sticks to your ears like glue. Of course, the closing track At Mourning’s Twilight provides us with the as-now traditional mega-epic closing riff, a pattern set down in stone by every album since “Here In After”. An Immolation album without one of those would be like beer without alcohol, seriously.

This disc might not crush all in it’s path like the bulk of Immolation’s back catalogue, instead it finds the band consolidating their style and branching out tentatively in a few new directions – never experimental enough to become a sellout or a creative failure, and never simply rehashing their previous creative triumphs. Essential for fans and a good introduction for newbies, they’ve surmounted a difficult stage in their career and succeeded where many lesser bands would fall flat on their faces. As usual, my hat (well, if I wore one) is off to them.

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