By Devdutt Nawalkar
There have been a few sterling Immolation-derived efforts since Shadows In The Light. In many ways, Dead Congregation with their Immolation and Incantation worship outdid what their idols have done over the last few years, at least in terms of brooding darkness and young energy (well, Incantation have been pretty consistent throughout). Ulcerate came out with ‘Everything Is Fire‘ last year, that progressive mindfuck that could yet define a new way forward for extreme metal. The seed of serrated atonality, sown by Voivod all those years ago, taken to heart by Gorguts, and always nurtured by Immolation, has finally borne fruit in eager and capable younger hands.
Immolation, for my opinion’s worth, have been the most consistent band in the genre for twenty years. (As a perfunctory aside, they’ve also been the greatest death metal band in that time) No band, retaining their early sound, rivals their output in terms of songwriting prowess, innovation, and sheer memorability. From the early fuckyouness against the church and its debaucheries to themes of more universal and politically themed frustration, Immolation have always emphasized the angry, rebellious spirit within death metal, never once succumbing to self-parody or the tongue-in-cheekiness other bands are prone too. They’ve always taken their art seriously, never made compromises, and have earned respect and acclaim from all quarters.
Having said all that, the underground has been rife for some time with misgivings about the slight changes in style that have crept in over the last couple of albums. Harnessing Ruin wasn’t given a favourable welcome, with charges of stagnation and courting trends seething below. Of course, to an underground averse to any form of accessibility and melodic content, however well done, even the slightest deviation from established palettes is paramount to betrayal. To these ears though, Harnessing Ruin always seemed like a segue – one a tad uncertain admittedly – that bore reward in the brilliant Shadows In The Light. Shadows found the band perfecting their newer, more streamlined style to a razor’s edge, opening up new avenues for the future.
Majesty And Decay is where the ancient past meets the recent. The album is very cleanly split on either side of an interlude. The first half sees the band giving more polish to the style they’ve introduced over the last few years; militant, grooving, quiet stretches of uneasy atmospherics, and leads more melodic than ever before. Rob Vigna is as twisted and inventive as ever while laying down rhythms but his playing is more conventional than I can recollect from before. In no way is that a bad thing either; a Vigna solo is never a mundane, by-the-books affair, always throwing curveballs and wrong turns at the listener.
‘The Purge’ muscles on with little regard for subtlety, but the brief-as-a-quickie ‘A Token Of Malice’ shows first glimpses of the classic Immolation dissonance , twisting and groaning like some metal monolith about to come crashing down. The title track is a heavy bastard with a main riff as catchy as the Asian flu, grooving and tormenting in equal parts. ‘Divine Code’ is a bit of a comedown; a simple song with no pretence and little memorability. ‘In Human Form’ and ‘A Glorious Epoch’ are mostly mid-paced bruisers with the trademark eerie tension that the band is famous for.
Hailing off the second half is a dark interlude quite reminiscent of the apocalyptic intro to the Dead Congregation debut. ‘A Thunderous Consequence’ is still a bit restrained but has some strange things happening beneath Vigna’s turned up noodlings. Cue ‘The Rapture Of Ghosts’, however, and the band takes us all the way back to the technical maelstroms of the Here In After Days. Zero predictability meshed with the band’s recent, more intensely melodic sensibilities makes The Rapture one of the best songs on the record, and THE style I’d love for the band to take to heart. It also has the long, repetitive outro usually reserved for the band’s epic closers. Of course, ‘The Comfort Of Cowards’ lives up to its storied final song billing – a six minute long excursion into Kingdom Immolation, kicked off with repetitive harmonics for the first minute. Fans of Gorguts’ Obscura will be quick to latch onto a few quick nods to that seminal work. Vigna’s first solo is something I’m sure I’ve heard on Harnessing Ruin, but I’m being too pedantic. Great song, and the way it breaks down at the end to lead into the expected climax makes a classic casestudy for the causes of whiplash among metal fans.
Steve Shalaty is in thunderous form here. He’s been steadily evolving and honing his style to the Immolation sound since Harnessing Ruin. Shadows In The Light was a dramatic step forward, and he’s taken the ball and run with all the way past the goalline here. His drumming, apart from being just a percussive instrument, actually adds texture and melody to these songs. Almost tribal in its groove and ferocity, he is as much the driving force behind these songs as Vigna, and his work is now fully qualified to be ranked alongside Alex Hernandez’s superlative performances on earlier records. Bob Vigna is, of course, one of the greatest death metal guitarists ever. I’d like to know how he comes up with his stuff which, while being so powerfully musical, never stoops to the cheesiness of say a Ralph Santolla (who’s a great player, just for the record). Vigna’s ably assisted by ex-Angelcorpse axe and now long-standing member Bill Taylor. Taylor has always been overshadowed by Vigna and Dolan and just the overwhelming presence that is Immolation. But he can hold his own in any company, and is great in a live situation to boot.
Majesty And Decay can sit very capably among the Immolation pantheon. At this stage in the game, it’s inconceivable that the band will ever release anything subpar. Where do they go from here? Well, ‘The Rapture Of Ghosts’ hints at a way forward. While it’s understandably hard for a veteran band to consistently capture the vibe of their younger days, it would be great if they could tap into that old sound for a bit before breaking back into whatever they’re doing today. Regardless, this album solidifies their standing as the single most important death metal band today.