IMMOLATION – Acts of God (2022)REVIEW

With personal anecdotes kept to a minimum on my part and an eleven album legacy savored and speaking for itself front to back, there shouldn’t be much to add to the reveal of New York death metal quartet Immolation‘s ‘Acts of God‘ beyond blustering din of acceptance, brand me a zealot before considering my prattling recommendation beyond. Suffocating endtyme atmosphere blanketed atop iteration of past experimentation in conveyance of self-division unto doom ensures this somewhat loudness’d record forcibly feeds its arduous length to listeners unto the same ‘exhaustion unto submission’ they’ve served since their post-millennium transformation by way of ‘modern’ production in the 2010’s. With the resilience of dynamic, sentient organisms trapped in the infernal maze-like dread of existence we may just as well pick and peel away at the layers available to this entirely characteristic release and find some mildly objective points of consideration to bank along the way.

There are many bands that’ve spent decades imprecisely honing in on the style of death metal Immolation had introduced back in 1991 with ‘Dawn of Possession‘ and (arguably) perfected unto something entirely new on 1996’s ‘Here in After‘ yet few have sustained a legacy off their backs in the same way many have twisted similar bands’ modus. This is true because, from my point of view, they’d found an original and avant-garde for its time rhythmic focus on that second album and expanded upon it in ways that still hover well above the insight of peers and perceived offspring to this day. This argument for Immolation‘s well-earned legacy status might sound pretentious but they haven’t sustained as such by way of touting record sales or by focusing on/overstating nostalgia, the music itself continues to present justification for greatness. The late 90’s and early 2000’s saw their cerebrally stated blasphemies innovating purposefully unto an nigh impossible to replicate entity through their third, fourth and fifth records. They are, from my point of view, one of the only bands from the early days of United States death metal lore who’d actually earned their lasting ‘branding’ both on stage and on record without completely collapsing and rebuilding several times over. Bit of a roundabout point but when I suggest that ‘Act of God‘ is a characteristic release I am suggesting that any fandom achieved at any point between 1991 and 2021 will immediately know and appreciate it as signature Immolation throughout, not that they’re pandering to fans with self-cannibalism.

The skewed ear of indoctrinated youth has me speaking in tongues. I was eight or nine years old when I first heard death metal, I believe I’d picked up my older brother’s copy of ‘Altars of Madness‘ circa ~1992 and, because the drums sounded even thinner than the thrash I’d been listening to, I’d dropped it for the more compelling artwork and thickened production of ‘Dawn of Possession‘ nearby. It’d be a balanced enough point of entry to stick with me as an ideal since. My point of view is entirely askew because of this, the sound of Immolation is the impetus and the ideal for pure death metal in my mind, it’d been the act that’d developed eldest synapses in my brain relating to the sub-genre. None of that is a “I was there, kinda.” flex or meant to sound self-important but provide contextual perspective, this band is my jam and has been for a long while. Truth is I don’t think folks who’d tried and ducked out of their last several releases will find this one dramatically different at face value beyond pacing and slightly warmed render but the reality is that the songcraft itself takes an entirely different angle than the previous album had implied.

The genius of Immolation‘s ever-expanding signature generally lies in the hands and head of guitarist Robert Vigna‘s songwriting and impressive performative technique. It is a thought that hadn’t truly hit me until 2002, having missed the previous two albums, when the title track for ‘Unholy Cult‘ opened a late night extreme metal show on Oregon State’s college radio. “Unholy Cult“, the song itself, became an obsession of mine, a truly representative lead-in to one of the darkest and most daring-for-its-time records in the quartet’s otherwise soon steadying discography. Despite elaborations of dissonant phrasing having been done before within progressive and technical death metal’s thrashing spectrum, and a bit on ‘Close to a World Below‘ (2000) even, this implementation stood out in a broadly influential way; It’d been an important moment to convince me that death metal didn’t have to be such an expected, steadfast Cannibal Corpse style product of year-over-year repetition (at the time, this thought applied better) to sustain worth, digging for the weirding side of the craft only becomes increasingly worthwhile as your exposure grows. The still underrated ‘Harnessing Ruin‘ (2005) had pushed the boundaries of their atmospheric, avant-garde phrasing even further and, well, that’d more or less been the record to push my fandom over the edge. This’ll be minor callback later in building precedence for the easier paced but still intense grind of ‘Act of God‘.

Without minimizing any previous works or rambling on endlessly about each release in detail I think it is fair to say that between the indomitable ‘Atonement‘ (2017) and this record Immolation are leaning back into a slightly more organic tonality since the marble-cut, cold and ratio’d sterility they’d found beyond 2010’s ‘Majesty and Decay‘. With each release they’ve made ’em count more and more as banners, events that re-communicate and solidify what makes the band an original without becoming mute to new ideas. Some of this observation comes from post-‘Atonement‘ onboarded second guitarist Alex Bouks (Ruinous, ex-Goreaphobia) playing on this record though I am not clear how much, if any, writing he’d done for these sessions. If nothing else the keener ear will note that this record is decidedly less dissonantly phrased, presenting more space for elaborate statements between shorter and more numerous songs. The suggestion from the band is that this’d been a chance to both flex their wings a bit on a few key songs while also reaching for a “darker” overall experience for the listener. At ~52 minutes in length ‘Acts of God‘ is a massive double LP wherein you’re either going to be immersed into said darkness or completely shut out by its fifteen ~3-4 minute cuts firing off in a row. It’ll amount to minefield of mud and mortar ’til you’ve sunk some serious time and consideration into the experience, and poured over the lyrics a bit.

Second single “The Age of No Light” is perhaps one of the most obvious highlights on the record, a piece that doesn’t recede beyond the point of familiarity thanks to its twisted, varietal rhythms and classic intensity as one of the more brutally achieved songs on the record. Drummer Steve Shalaty (ex-Odious Sanction) has always been the right fit for the understated, technical kick of Immolation but the finesse of a few pre-2017 performances have been somewhat buried, this is not the case with ‘Acts of God‘ and I’d say the inch of additional clarity afforded here makes all the difference, lending some mind-bending action to the full listen as we dive right into the tumultuous “Noose of Thorns”, one of my overall favorite pieces on the album. So, here is arguably where this record gets it right and kinda wrong at the same time depending on your expectations as we drop into the next sub-level of distress with “Shed the Light” over on the top of Side B and complete what I’d consider the first strong grouping of pieces; By grouping these three dynamic, chaotic and intense pieces their impact is both co-resonant and nearly too dominant over the rest of the record, which explores deliberate pacing and atmosphere to a different degree, something we see immediately in third single “Blooded“. It isn’t that I’m worried Immolation will run out of gas but that the impact of the full listen is spread wide enough that many listeners will hit empty before they’ve seen the end of Side D.

The listening experience won’t likely make great sense in terms of flow until you’ve considered ‘Act of God‘ as a largely designed for a double vinyl event, wherein three pauses provide the breathing room most folk will need in the space of a very intense fifty plus minute death metal record. Could it have been a solid ~45 minute killer? Yes, but I’m glad they went bigger on this one and completed the thought with each of these songs. That said on digital or compact disc the lack of spacing will read a bit like a relentless, if not overstated, showcase for everything Immolation can and have ever done; If you are a die-hard that’ll be a huge plus, there really isn’t a single clunker in the bunch, though “Overtures of the Wicked” is pure mid-album Immolation excess to my ear. The ranting munitions of “Immortal Strain”, the incredible mid-paced opening build unto disarray of “Incineration Procession”, and the mid-to-late 90’s Bolt Thrower-esque phrasing of “Derelict of Spirit” all earn their space in ear and on album. I would have liked a less subtle musical motif to develop beyond the lyrical themes which, as with every aspect of this album, represent both classicist standards and a ‘here and now’ statement. Reflection upon civilization and human cognition in a state of decay alongside the well-built passage to the grand finale of ‘Act of God‘ (“Apostle“) would ultimately reframe the experience of listening in a profound way, implying I’d need to take a closer look on third, fourth, fifth and beyond listens.

That’d be the most important statement to make in approach of such a consistent and ongoing thread — There is no good reason to rush toward judgement on an Immolation record, especially one so thick with ideas, as each and every one of their releases has matured in mind and on shelf well above the average death metal album. Tone and timbre, mood and atmosphere, all manner of choices set markers of time and place yet within their work and that’ll logically place ‘Act of God‘ within Immolation‘s discography as the next, the result of building upon a properly expanded foundation over the course of more than three decades. It is up to you to decide if this is a stagnant form, the latest wave of hype in your cursorial social media driven gopher existence, or (in my case) an overdose on the good stuff that’ll leave me foaming at the mouth for the rest of the year. For my own taste it is both a perfect companion to the successes of ‘Atonement‘ and a newer darkest age from the band which largely avoids restating that work. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (90/100)

Rating: 9 out of 10.
TITLE:Acts of God
LABEL(S):Nuclear Blast
RELEASE DATE:February 18th, 2022

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