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To the Depths... in Degradation - 95%

Immune_to_Poison, June 27th, 2010

It's difficult to find that perfect balance between atmosphere, brutality and musicianship. In most cases, parts of each spectrum tend to outweigh its own constituents. Why is this? In my experience, it is likely that the sheer challenge of reaching the aforementioned balance deters the artist from putting forth the necessary effort. Apparently, Infester was willing to put themselves through musical Hell for the sake of their listeners. In a sense, it allows us to see what they've seen, hear what they've heard, feel what they've felt... in Hell. To put it bluntly, To the Depths... in Degradation is the most evil sounding record I have ever heard. This is a most pungent atmosphere that is an unfortunate rarity in most (almost all) death metal.

To the Depths may very well have, with regards to my standards, the most perfect vocal performance I've ever had the pleasure of hearing in death metal. If an undead zombie clawed its way out of its grave, Jason Oliver's vocals are just about how I would expect it to sound. When he uses deep gutturals, they don't even seem human: "It" can't form words quite yet, but it can force frightening growls from its dirt filled lungs though its rotted trachea, and thus expelling them from its putrid buccal cavity. When a singer is more fittingly described as "it" rather than "him", you know you're in for some horrifying vocals. Not only can Oliver perform some of the sickest, deepest gutturals I've ever heard, his sparsely used shrieks sound as if they're used to express a combination of physical and emotional pain that words alone cannot. Hence, in addition to outright brutality, there exists an element of chilling sorrow as well.

The songwriting is simply astounding. There's nothing overly technical, but so many morbidly catchy riffs are thrown around in each trach that it doesn't matter. No riffs are wasted, either. The album's second track, "Chamber of Reunion", may be the best example of this. Over the span of 6 minutes and 41 seconds, the song goes from sounding like black metal to death metal to something from a Castlevania soundtrack, all while remaining coherent and brutal. Indubitably, the best parts of these songs are their breakdowns, where everything slows down and goes for the jugular. "Braded into Palsy" has, to my knowledge, one of the most suspenseful breaks in all of death metal. The lugubrious chugging, coupled with a series of subterranean growls, gives the arrangement a very legitimate "what lurks around the corner" feel. It's a beautiful thing.

Elsewhere, musicality remains tight. The bass playing is completely audible and augments the music considerably. Sometimes, bass lines come without the aid of guitar, setting up a new passage or serving as a segue to a guitar break. I feel that the bass is as important a part as any in the overall feel of this album. Dynamics and tempo changes galore, the drummer guides Infester though many a metal subgenre. His playing generally dictates where the music goes. Blast beats are used for death metal parts, while slow rhythms and subtle double bass fills accentuate the doom metal sections. The drumming certainly isn't a display of virtuosity by any means on the album, but it is the backbone of it, nonetheless. Keyboards are also used in some areas. However, it isn't employed as a desperate attempt to sound "epic". Quite the opposite, it drips with evil and helps make an already dark passage sound that much more daunting. In actuality, it's more used for ambience than melody. The most melody you'll hear from the keys is in the spooky introduction to "Braded into Palsy".

Lyrically, the subject matter is fairly typical of the gore genre with some (insincere, I believe) attempts at shock value. It's not the lyrics that are exceptional, but how they're presented, including the creative vocal patterns. The production is dirge, dense and heavy. Everything is audible and organic. I especially like the drum tone. The only problem with the production is that it bears a somewhat low volume mastering. Obviously, competence with a standard stereo volume knob does well to remedy this. I suppose the only thing that keeps To the Depths from receiving a perfect score is that Infester seemed to use up all of their great ideas on the record's first six songs or so, and the rest sound like average death metal songs in comparison (except the outro, which is straight up filler). Besides this, trust me, the first three tracks of the album alone is well worth the price of admission.

Overall, To the Depths... in Degradation is easily a classic of raw, evil death metal. In fact, as per my tastes, this is my personal favorite death metal album of all time. Copies are becoming rarer as time passes, so I'd recommend that anyone interested in owning this album in the flesh should acquire it post-haste.