Album Title: Acts Of God
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 18 February 2022
It has been well documented on the pages of this website that I arrived late to the death metal party. My early years of extreme metal exploration tended to gravitate towards the genres and subgenres that offered me some form of overt melody. As we all know by now, the kind of melody that I was looking for, and still am to be honest, isn’t a frequent visitor to the realm of pure death metal. But, over the years, I have developed much more of a love and appreciation for this kind of brutality. Nevertheless, it means that I am forever playing catch-up, and today is another example. I’m familiar, of course, with the name and their reputation, but to say I know much about Immolation would be a stretch. Indeed, aside from a few tracks here and there, this is the first Immolation record to which I’ve given my full attention, and the very first I’ve ever reviewed.
Formed in 1986 in Yonkers, New York, Immolation are revered by many, and respected as one of the top names in the death metal genre. Beginning with their debut, ‘Dawn Of Possession’ is 1991, the quartet have released ten albums during this 30 year period, with ‘Acts Of God’ their eleventh. Lead guitarist Robert Vigna may be the only remaining original member, but vocalist/bassist Ross Dolan may as well be, having joined the ranks in 1988, before their debut was released. They are accompanied by long-term drummer Steve Shalaty, and rhythm guitarist Alex Bouks, the latest recruit who joined in 2016.
The first impression I get of ‘Acts Of God’ is that it is suitably heavy, aggressive, and downright nasty. But it is nasty in a good way, if that makes sense. More on this later, because before that, I want to tackle my second impression – the fact that there is too much music on ‘Acts Of God’. For me, the sweet spot for an uncompromising and violent blast of death metal is around the 30 minutes, 40 at the most. ‘Acts Of God’ is around 52 minutes. I pride myself in having a reasonable attention span, but for me, when the music is this unrelenting and this brutal, the album is far too long. Other, more hardy souls may well disagree, but I freely admit that I start to get aural fatigue as the album pushes on well into the second half.
The only problem is though that when considered dispassionately, aside from a couple of unnecessary instrumentals, including an intro piece, further editing of ‘Acts Of God’ is rather a difficult task. And that’s because I am highly impressed with the high quality and the consistency of the music on offer. I don’t dislike any of the fifteen (yes, fifteen) tracks; it’s just that overall, it’s too much. As such, I often split my listening sessions in half, so I could come to the second half as fresh as I’d normally come to the first.
Length aside, I have to say that I’m thoroughly enjoying properly popping my Immolation cherry. The violence from the very beginning of ‘An Act Of God’ is terrific, a blaze of precise blastbeats from Shalaty, whilst sharp, demonic riffing seeks to bury the listener under a powerful onslaught, all topped off by Ross Dolan’s low guttural growls. But there’s groove aplenty to be heard too, as the quartet shift tempo and their angle of attack seemingly at will. The lead breaks from Alex Bouks are otherworldly too, as they shriek and writhe as if possessed.
‘The Age Of No Light’ is well-named because it’s a savage affair, into which moments of real malevolence are weaved, although I have to say that the closing, groove-led closing sequence is of the highest quality, begging to be heard again and again.
Unless I’m hearing things, I do detect a vague hint of black metal here and there too, most noticeably within songs like ‘Incarceration Procession’ and the slow, ominous opening to ‘Noose Of Thorns’, where Shalaty is able to show off his unbelievable skills, demonstrating technicality and flamboyance at the same time. As the song progresses, out come more scintillating guitar leads from Vigna, whilst Dolan’s voice seems to get deeper and deeper, threatening to go subterranean at times. It’s also one of the most immediately memorable tracks anywhere on the album too, meaning that it’s a personal favourite.
What I’m also impressed with, is the depth of the material here. Yes, it’s brutal, yes, it’s formidable. But it is also full of very clever intricacies and subtle ideas that are woven into the numerous layers. Everything from a deliberately dissonant chord progression to a well-placed pinched harmonic, and from a breath-taking drum fill to a sinister bass line, is present if you listen carefully enough and for long enough.
Being as honest as I possibly can, I’m not sure if this exact style of music will ever be a personal favourite of mine. However, there is no way that even I can ignore the quality that Immolation deliver here. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool death metal fan, I think that there is every chance that ‘Acts Of God’ will make you weak at the knees, and have you salivating from the first note to the last. For me, I want my music to have just a little more groove, or a little more melody, or even just a little more variety if I’m going to spend the better part of an hour listening to it. By the end, my head’s a mess, my brain is befuddled, and I’m in need of a soothing cool cloth across my forehead. But there’s no doubting that Immolation are masters at what they do, no doubt at all.
The Score of Much Metal: 88%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
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