The first notes of Immolation‘s ninth and latest studio album, Kingdom Of Conspiracy, blare out from my speakers as I sit down and begin to listen. I reminisce: they were a killer band ‘back in the day’. Then I quickly realize: they still are. This newest disc drives that home effortlessly. Immolation was a band who set the tone of the traditional death metal genre… and they’re still at it’s helm. Like listening to Slayer, Motorhead, or fellow New Yorkers Suffocation, listening to Immolation is an experience. They are a great, unrelenting, formulaic band. Early on, they figured out what worked for them, and stuck with it. Pillars in the death metal scene, they’ve been through many record labels, and sleeping-sitting-up van tours, and they’re still grinding away. That’s passion!
The production’s great, drums are great, bass is great, guitars are great, vocals are evil, sequencing is great, mood is dark. It’s an album case-study in ‘what to do’. One unique and unexpected thing they’re doing, is they’re incorporating a songwriting cue from the world of rock (without it sounding -anything- like rock, don’t worry!): they’ve taken the concept of track highlighting to a new level. When you hear brief pinch harmonics, quick tempo changes, little riff accents here and there: those are aural highlights that grab your ear. Every song has much to offer. No parts of the orchestration are frilly or overplayed – each part is played ‘to serve the song’. And it works.
There are at least two songs on the album that are especially noteworthy. “God Complex” starts out blastbeat fast. Dissonant and discordant, it demands attention, and receives it. Tempos shift and menacing vocals enter, deep and commanding. If you’re not up for transcribing lyrics, listen to this at a volume where you can appreciate all of the nuances and extras, especially in the percussion and lead guitar lines. “Serving Divinity” is a bit more mid-paced, much more crushing, and may very well end up a crowd favorite. As in the rest of the album, tempos shift abruptly, but this tune has it’s basis in a more mid-tempo meanness with shifts to blast rather then the reverse. The abrasive, blasting, rapid-fire riffs are held up with a very percussive, monstrous low end.
Regarding the instrumentation, let’s start off with a staple of death metal: pounding drums. The first thing a lot of listeners are going to notice is the percussion. Steve can play that live, and yes he can play that fast! What’s remarkable about this is the consistency of both the speed and the relative ease in which if all of it flows. You’ll hear rapid-fire artillery double-bass drum attacks, solid mid-tempo groove, and even a slower, sludgy doom. It’s not all double-bass and warp-speed snare attack though – listen for cymbal accents all over the place. The bass guitar is rumbling along, supporting the rest of the band, the parts well-played and well-balanced. Death metal has become known for “brutal” indecipherable, low vocals. Check out Immolation if you want to be able to understand most of what Ross is growling, even at higher volumes. To spot-check, I cranked the tune playing at the time, and first-pass picked this phrase out: “Engineered to spread like a fever among the innocent” (from “Indoctrinate”). Vicious and calculating, Immolation’s dual guitar attack stays at the top with decapitating riffs, blinding speed, murky doom, and rock solid rhythm playing. That said, they are not a ‘lead guitar’ type band – they never were. The band is dissonant, down-tuned, abrasive, and pummeling as ever. There are plenty of (1-4 bars) short, stabbing solos, but they’re used as accents or textures rather then what we’d generally call a ‘guitar solo’ per se.
A lot of bands can pull a great studio recording but they can’t back it up with solid live performances. Immolation is one of those bands who can play everything they record onstage, so this record isn’t just ‘a snack to tide you over before dinner’ — it’s ‘a full plate menu of music’ you can expect to hear ‘properly’, live. If you’re fortunate enough to catch this band in concert, you might be able to hear a lot of the nuances from their studio albums. They don’t water down their live shows. This commanding band exudes strength, and an insidious malevolence matched by few indeed.
Criticism: There aren’t enough songs. Maybe if you put a knife to my throat, I might say something like ‘some of the 64th notes are a little off-time in the guitar solos’. According to videos on Nuclear Blast’s YouTube channel, the leads were mostly written and recorded in the studio with no rehearsal. So, it could be deliberate – to create entropy or tension. Who am I to criticize, right? I don’t really have anything all that negative to say, so I’ll make nothing up.
What a fantastic record to ‘pump up the volume’ when you’re feeling despondent, irritated, or angry with the world. Production is nice and clean. Overall, this intense recording has just the right amount of distortion to capture a rich, thick, ‘carrying’ tone. The instruments are in balance, and the album is remarkably consistent, from moment to moment or song to song. This doesn’t require a sophisticated listener or a high end sound system to dig in to and enjoy. With a gripping force and a familiar sound, Immolation’s Kingdom Of Conspiracy holds your attention rapt.
Kingdom Of Conspiracy
Bound To Order
Keep The Silence
Echoes Of Despair
The Great Sleep
A Spectacle Of Lies
All That Awaits Us
Bob Vigna – guitar
Bill Taylor – guitar
Ross Dolan – bass, vocals
Steve Shalaty – drums