Artist: God Dethroned
Album Title: Illuminati
Label: Metal Blade Records
Date of Release: 7 February 2020
Dutch blackened death metal stalwarts God Dethroned return in 2020 with their eleventh album in a career that has spanned nearly thirty years since their formation in 1991. They are one of those bands that feels like they have been around forever, plying their trade doggedly and determinedly in the underground without the kind of recognition that perhaps their music deserved. By way of an example, despite my feverish and obsessive search for the best music throughout the 90s, it wasn’t until 2003 and the release of their fifth studio release, ‘Into The Lungs Of Hell’, that I became aware of them and began worshipping at the altar of God Dethroned.
I remember hearing tracks like ‘The Warcult’ and ‘Soulsweeper’ at the time, thinking ‘how is this band not huge?’ To my ears, they had it all: the aggression, the ability, the melodies, the songs…they seemed to blend a great many elements into their music that I loved. But it was the blend of brutality with incredible, memorable hooks and melodies that did it for me. Ever since that fated day, I have followed the band’s career and have every subsequent record in my collection.
I have to admit that there were a couple of less impressive releases in the late noughties (‘The Toxic Touch’ and ‘Passiondale’ for example) and my interest waned a little, always going back to ‘Into The Lungs Of Hell’ when the need arose to hear God Dethroned. Nevertheless, when the band was placed on hiatus by mastermind Henri Sattler between 2010 and 2017, I missed their presence in the metal world. Comeback album ‘The World Ablaze’ (2017) was a return to form of sorts and now we’re faced with ‘Illuminati’. After hearing the title track as lead single, I was so excited to hear this record and finally, I have my wish.
The first thing to say is that it is a surprisingly brief affair. With just nine tracks of which one is a 40-second interlude, ‘Illuminati’ has a running time of around 36 minutes. On the one hand, I’d have loved another couple of songs. However, there is sometimes something to be said about succinctness, a comment thrown in the direction of my reviews many a time! The bottom line is that I don’t ever feel short-changed or disappointed by ‘Illuminati’ and, as such, maybe this is the perfect length for an extreme metal record? On this particular occasion, I’d have to say yes.
There has been a line-up change this time around too, with guitarist Mike Ferguson replaced by Dave Meester in the writing cycle for this record. However, bassist/vocalist Jeroen Pomper remains within the fold to deliver his recognisable growls and Michiel van der Plicht continues to pummel the life out of his poor battered drumkit with blasts and swift rolls aplenty throughout.
In terms of the music itself, the biggest compliment I can pay ‘Illuminati’ is to suggest that this might be my favourite of all releases by this extreme metal band.
The reason why I rather confidently say this is because I get the feeling that this is arguably the most consistent studio effort the quartet have ever released. Even on the excellent ‘Into the Lungs Of Hell’, I felt that there were a couple of less vital and important tracks to be heard. Having listened to ‘Illuminati’ on a frequent basis of late, I can’t say the same. I never once itch to press the ‘skip’ button and before I know it, the album is finished. And crucially, the more I listen, the more I am tempted to simply start all over again without a pause for breath.
It all starts with the title track, ‘Illuminati’, which begins with a menacing and deliciously evil-sounding stomper of a riff. The guitar tones are crushing and full of weight. The rhythm section backs it up beautifully sounding equally strong and heavy. As the track develops, the pace quickens to a point where we are treated to the ubiquitous blastbeats, staccato riffs and sinister atmosphere that give God Dethroned their ‘blackened’ tag. But as we’ve all come to expect, the song is chock full of melody and subtle hooks that work their charm with repeated listens. The chorus is truly epic, featuring some keys and clean vocals behind Pomper’s nasty bark.
The opening salvo is also vitally important from a lyrical standpoint because it signals a return to blasphemous, anti-God sentiment after a period of time exploring different lyrical themes. This is bound to be a winner for many long-term fans and it certainly seems like it has signalled a true return to form if this record is anything to go by.
‘Broken Halo’ is all-out aggression with a lovely melodic lead guitar solo to break up the relentless warp-speed attack either side. By contrast, ‘Book Of Lies’ is stunning, wasting no time in breaking out an immediately memorable and anthemic melody, created by some fast-picked guitar work. It then seems to segue from one catchy section to another, be it a groovy riff, a hooky chorus or a more soulful and melodic lead guitar solo. And yet, for all its immediacy, it remains heavy as hell too, leaving me smiling broadly.
The choral vocals, handled by Sattler himself within ‘Spirit of Beelzebub’ transform an otherwise one-dimensional death metal punch-up into something altogether more majestic and sinister, whilst the complete twist at the mid-way point introduces a killer groove.
Having got this far, I may as well turn this into a track-by-track review, especially having suggested that every song is equally brilliant. ‘Satan Spawn’ is another aggressive, speedy number but again follows its predecessor’s lead by injecting some headbanging groove into proceedings, as well as some wailing and gnashing lead guitar breaks, underpinned by some wonderfully bruising bass and drum action.
‘Gabriel’ actually begins in relatively sedate fashion before building in intensity, complete with symphonic hints and layers of melodies that create one of the most epic compositions on the album. It also contains another collection of sinister melodies that are unsettling but also genuine growers, meaning that after about five spins, I defy anyone not to be completely smitten. ‘Eye Of Horus’ continues the requirement for superlatives, as it provides yet more amazing melodies, albeit this time more solemn and sedate, but equally gorgeous. The drumming is insane as always and the song is incredibly heavy. However, it carries with it a much more mournful vibe helped by the lead guitar sound and layers of vocals; this is God Dethroned doing a ‘sensitive’ song and it is stunning.
‘Dominus Muscarum’ is the aforementioned instrumental interlude which is 43 seconds of church organ and choral vocals. It gives way to the final track, ‘Blood Moon Eclipse’ and the intro damn near knocks my head clean off my shoulders. It is all-out bludgeoning attack to begin with and for large portions of its six-minute length. However, in true God Dethroned fashion, there is plenty of room for a slower-paced groovy riff or three, sinister atmosphere and probably the most subtle melodies, once again driven for the most part by the dual guitar attack of Sattler and Meester. Theirs seems to be a quality partnership already and, rather fittingly, the conclusion to this track and the album sees plenty of lead guitar embellishments to enjoy.
Because of its consistency, power and immediacy, ‘Illuminati’ has to be the best album of God Dethroned’s long and illustrious career. It is certainly my personal favourite as it delivers on just about every level and I never tire of its majestic and melodic savagery. Need I say more?
The Score of Much Metal: 93%
Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: