In creating very specifically influenced ‘genre’ music the ‘progressive’ label quickly becomes preposterously subjective or, at least entirely reliant upon first defining whatever conservatism it is that the musicians see themselves uprooting. In most cases those that intend progressive music actually create a loose-feeling uplift within easily identified forms; To be labeled different in virtuous light, often with no actual opposing force defined, is incredibly absurd but consistently achieved. The appropriate description of this undertaking is actually revisionist (and often actually regressive) in terms of the span modern music history achieves and as such, the term ‘progressive death metal’ is almost cheekily backwards. To achieve the tag you’d almost have to resemble a bygone era or well-established artist. Revisionism isn’t a crime, though, and if you can free yourself from the pretentious suggestion that any genre is digressive or ‘old hat’ and not just one piece of a greater diverse collective there remains enough room for every variation and iteration imaginable. How then does it feel when you’re a die-hard, open-minded fan of death metal and you’ve come ear-to-speaker with a band that seems to aim for an ultra specific “What if…?” as their sonic thesis? In many ways New Jersey progressive death metal band Hath seem to be positing “What if Opeth hadn’t taken such a hard (soft?) turn after ‘Watershed’? and left that heaviness to Bloodbath” and their answer is more-or-less their debut full-length ‘Of Rot and Ruin’.
It seems a dire and shallowly reductive observation to make but, the influences are worn boldly upon sleeve throughout this finely-tuned and reasonably heavy progressive death metal record. Nothing about the style that Hath explores is particularly new, either. Pantokrator, Steorrah, Black Crown Initiate, and even In Vain have each more or less taken different bites out of the same mounding of influences that range from pure Swedish buzzsaw death metal to melodeath and the progressive rock influenced permutations beyond. There is a ‘next level’ of prog music that some aim for (In Vain, Allegaeon) while others lean towards death metallic heaviness for interest (Pantokrator) and the question is, which side of the fence does Hath land on? Good question, because they’ve found a balancing act that rides the fence almost intentionally and this despite their nigh artificially boosted chunky rhythm guitar tone and predominant death growls.
If you poke around their prior and/or related death metal projects you’ll find less specific approaches to similar ideas, a grooming of sorts. Three members play in instrumental progressive death metal band Ophidius and this’d be the most relevant point of reference for the style of Hath‘s debut but, if you look to tech-death scrapers Cognitive and Dystrophy only the most basic sensibilities appear related in terms of guitar tone and some sparingly dosed technical death metal guitar techniques (see: “Accursed”) used throughout. What then, is the major point of interest in approaching Hath, that might sustain it as a piece for the ages? It is a first step and not any sort of transcendence, if that is what you’re looking for. I do hear glimpses of genius on a few tracks (“Progeny”, “To Atone”, “Currents”) but there are far too many chunking bouts of filler riff and acoustic fiddling that amount to imitation at worst and variation at best.
When Hath are at thier best they’re striking iron far above their pay grade towards the cosmic reach of a group like Sulphur Aeon, particularly with “To Atone” where the build of the song is very effective and the ending is particularly flattening. What follows with “Withered” is exactly the sort of moment that begins promising in its progression then clunks along into a pace-weakening non-statement. I found this was the point on the record where I’d typically fall off, as the Opeth-esque arc of “Worlds Within” and “Kindling” feel like an excessive blockage nearing the endpoint. If slashed down to 40 minutes while leaving the two closing tracks in tact ‘Of Rot and Ruin’ would have been a more powerful experience. I personally couldn’t get past that mid-album slump of energy as it felt like variation for the sake of it without and of the interesting leading ideas found on earlier tracks like “Currents” or “Rituals”.
Will you enjoy it? Probably. I’ve found I’m particularly harsh towards modern progressive death metal albums that focus on prog-djent style riffing or tone, and that ultra chuggy guitar sound would’ve sent me flying towards the eject button eventually in any case. If you could describe a riff or guitar tone as ‘bonking’, even in a jocular sense, chances are I’ll hate it. I did however get a fair amount of mileage out of this album before passing on it and still I felt it was worth putting some time into. For a debut this is an above average set of songs that could benefit from an editing ear and a more succinct approach but it is an easy recommendation for folks who want a heavier approach to prog-death. Moderately high recommendation. For preview I’d suggest “Currents” and “To Atone” to gauge Hath at their best, “Accursed” if you want an extra hit of tech heaviness, and “Progeny” to make up for the four milder songs that precede it.
Fester in me no more. 3.5/5.0
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