The evolution of Italian death metal band Hour of Penance across twenty years and eight albums is marked by their main songwriting presence passing among several hands during that time. Back when their first album (‘Disturbance‘, 2003) in the post-millennium age of brutal death metal, standards were improving on a yearly basis and around that time they’d fit neatly in with the hollow-beaten, precision-based brutal death typical of Italy and Poland at the time, when Unique Leader were still putting out raw Suffocation clones and bands like Behemoth became viable popular phenomenon alongside Nile. I wouldn’t say anyone paid very close attention to Hour of Penance until their third album (‘The Vile Conception‘, 2008) when they’d sign to Unique Leader Records, amped up their anti-Christian themes, and on-board vocalist Francesco Paoli who brought an incredible presence to their recordings that’d later translate in his own band Fleshgod Apocalypse. That’d be the most interesting aspect of this band’s history because their discography shows rapid mutation through iteration from that point as each album would not only become increasingly bombastic but slick and professional as well. Hour of Penance have more or less been on a roll since 2014 with their two records for Prosthetic Records hitting thier own stride between outright brutality and their Behemoth-esque blackened side. ‘Misotheism‘ nearly brings the project full circle or, somewhere near the point of their first breakthrough in 2008 as this blackening atmosphere suits them well.
‘Demigod’ and ‘Annihilation of the Wicked’ were big records for brutal death metal sounds reaching a certain accessible level of spectacle and quality that’d spill out into a worldwide ecosystems of bands, including Hour of Penance, influenced by those innovations (or, high stylistic standards) since. ‘Misotheism’ feels like the band have taken a stab back into the core of that early inspiration while being mindful of the standard of technique and atmospheric value assumed of their releases today; The broader message implied here is that this is may be a moderately technical blackened brutal death metal album but it is a trip to see that style applied to black/death metal in 2019 without relying on dissonance. Otherwise they’ve not reinvented the wheel in any sense and Hour of Penance still rely on brutal tempos that set them on a shelf next to bands like Hate Eternal, Azarath, and Kronos. The Hertz Studios mix does a lot to reinforce the spectacle of that sound as it lends a certain flatness that recalls a mid-to-late 00’s sound, giving a lot of power to the bass drums with vocals just on the verge of loud; ‘Misotheism’ is a giant slab of brutality as a result.
Although I’d previously felt like ‘Regicide’ (2014) was the best thing Hour of Penance had done since their third album in 2008, ‘Misotheism’ is probably as good or better. Still, if you’re familiar with the style of death metal akin to Nile/Behemoth of a certain era none of it will be revelatory, just well written and probably a new creative peak for the project in terms of variation. Much of that variation inevitably must stem from the drummer’s throne as the constantly blasted style employed typically relies heavily on fills for dynamic within in songs. There are more ‘slower’ pieces than ever before but you’ll not mistake ‘Misotheism’ for anything less than brutal throughout. “Fallen From Ivory Towers” reeks of ‘The Apostasy’ during its main verses, informing the listener not only where Hour of Penance are coming from but throwing in their own leads and doubly textured riffs. Drummer Davide Billia’s (Beheaded, Coffin Birth) heavy-footed double bass abuse is well showcased by the production and his cymbal work is less buried here than on the last few records he’s played on. “Sovereign Nation” is probably the most brutal track here and should at least reinforce my sentiments about ‘The Vile Conception’ earlier.
The last half of ‘Misotheism’ is of the darker, ‘blackened’ side of the band while the first half is more plainly brutal overall and I’d listened a handful of times before I’d wanted more of the mid-paced songs up front. Placing “Iudex” as track four instead of “The Second Babel” changes the feeling of the album entirely. Otherwise the full listen falls in line with the more listenable and repeatable spectrum of brutal music today. There aren’t many bands from the early 2000’s brutal death explosion that I’ll still willingly jump right into and I think Hour of Penance have held up because they’re still stubbornly of that era but always improving with each release.
Moderately high recommendation. 3.75/5.0
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