Album Title: Damnum
Label: Metal Blade Records
Date of Release: 25 February 2022
I could have sworn that I’d reviewed Allegaeon in the past. I was certain of it. And yet, upon further investigation, I am grossly mistaken. Thank heavens I didn’t lay a wager on it, that’s all I can say. It’s bizarre though, because it is a name with which I feel familiar, a band of which I have long been aware. And yet, somehow, they remain an untapped well. That ends here and now though, as I have delved deeply into the music on this, their sixth album.
Formed in Colorado in 2008, Allegaeon quickly released a self-titled EP the same year, before unleashing their debut album, ‘Fragments Of Form And Function’ two years later in 2010. Since then, the quintet have not stood still, releasing a new album just about every two years, meaning that they already have an impressive back catalogue of material. And this is against a backdrop of line-up changes which means that only lead guitarist Greg Burgess remains as an original member. He is joined on Damnum by guitarist Michael Stancel, vocalist Riley McShane, and bassist Brandon Michael, with drummer Jeff Saltzman the only new face since their last album, ‘Apostosis’, was released in 2019.
The more I listen to ‘Damnum’, the most annoyed I become. Not with the band, but with myself, for not allowing this band into my life earlier. A loose description of Allegaeon’s music as a starter for ten would be melodic technical death metal, although what’s immediately noticeable is the way in which the five musicians attempt to cram so many different ideas into the music that such a simple description fails to do the band any real justice at all. Not only do I become more annoyed, but I become more impressed with the music too. If I were to list out all of the different ideas that feature on ‘Damnum’, it might come across as an exercise in futility because on paper, it can only sound like a giant mess will ensue. But that isn’t the case at all, and ‘Damnum’ is all the more impressive for it.
I will readily admit that ‘Damnum’ isn’t perfect though. For a start, it’s a hefty affair that touches the hour mark, with room for a little editing here and there within the twelve individual compositions on the record. It’s also, strangely, not the easiest album to initially get into either, although perseverance pays off in spades. I’m not sure if it’s my review download, but I also think that the production could have been a touch better; I do suffer a little fatigue as I listen, with it feeling quite loud and a little harsh at times.
But enough of any minor niggles, because the positives are much more worthy of attention. But where do I start? There is just so much music to take in and describe here. But slave to convention as I am, I’ll kick off with the opening track, ‘Bastards Of The Earth’. At a little over four minutes, it crams in so much, from the delightfully serene and melodic acoustic guitar intro, to the all out death metal attack that quickly extinguishes any thought that ‘Damnum’ might be a relaxing listen. There’s a slight black metal edge to the fast-picked riffing that juxtaposes more chunky bludgeoning. McShane then adds some incredible vocals to the track; one minute deep and guttural, the next, he’s screaming in a higher-pitched register. And then, out of nowhere, we’re treated to some melodic lead guitar flamboyance, as well as a brief foray into clean vocal territory just for good measure. Wow, what a breathless start.
From there, there’s very little let-up in terms of intensity and creativity. There are plenty of moments where the music ebbs and flows, giving our ears time to adjust and to pick out some lovely subtle nuances, but Allegaeon never take their eye off the ball, always seemingly searching for something new to tempt the ears with.
‘Of Beasts And Worms’ features a hushed spoken word section, as well as bold Hammond organ embellishments at the outset that provide a 70s prog feel. However, it’s the increased use of clean vocals from McShane that makes one of the biggest impacts; reminiscent of Soilwork’s Björn ‘Speed’ Strid in terms of power and delivery, it’s one hell of a performance that wonderfully accents the savagery and complexity within what is, it has to be said, a bit of a beast of a song, lacing it with a warm melodic edge.
Even when the material is more extreme and uncompromisingly heavy, as per the likes of ‘To Carry My Grief Through Torpor and Silence’ or ‘Saturnine’, there’s more than a hint of melody shining through. In the case of the former, you even get a flamenco-like classical guitar interlude, where the bass then gets in on the act, before a rousing final section carries us out on the crest of an impressively entertaining wave. In the case of the latter, the results are stunning.
‘Vermin’ is elegant and beautiful, carrying with it an air of power metal right at the beginning, before setting about bludgeoning us with precise rhythms, sharp riffs, whilst managing to sound serene and majestic at the same time. I’m not sure how this result is possible, especially with McShane growling menacingly, but that’s the end result as far as I’m concerned, and it’s really rather wonderful.
If you don’t get chills at the sound of the drums that accent the gentle intro to ‘Called Home’, or the insane technical abilities of Jeff Saltzman as the song develops, then I’m not sure what will. On an album filled with stunning performances and compositions, this is another extremely high point, even if the ghost of Opeth lurks in the considerable shadows of a song that butchers the ears one minute and soothes them the next. Am I brave enough to say that I enjoy this more than anything Opeth has ever done? Yes, I am. And it’s true.
If all of this wasn’t enough, Allegaeon are not finished, because ‘The Dopamine Void, Pt. I’ adds a touch of whimsy, not to mention a brief brass orchestral flourish at the death, whilst the bass of Brandon Michael steals the show within companion piece, ‘The Dopamine Void, Pt. II’, a track that sees McShane briefly dabble in something approaching what I can only describe rather ineffectually as gruff rapping.
By now, my anger is threatening to boil over. Why have I never given this band more of my attention before now? I can be such an idiot at times. ‘Damnum’ is a very ambitious record, but the technical abilities of the quintet mean that the plethora of competing influences don’t end up as a huge cluttered, unfocused mess. On the contrary, once you get your bearings and listen to the album a few times, it all makes sense. It’s an intense ride for sure, but it’s a hugely enjoyable and rewarding ride too, full of interesting twists and turns. I cannot recommend ‘Damnum’ more highly, because Allegaeon are the real deal. If only I’d realised it sooner.
The Score of Much Metal: 93%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: