I wrote this review less than 24 hours after a horrific mosque shooting took place in Quebec City, somewhere not two hours down the road from my desk. Immolation were popular in Quebec City, even popular throughout the entire province of Quebec. I could not help but have an eerie feeling while I typed a review for a death metal album, in fact the best one released so far in 2017. Immolation’s new album, their tenth since forming in 1986, is called Atonement (scheduled release date: February 24, 2017). The religious overtones in that title wormed their way through my head, like so many guitar riffs.
Morbidity aside, we should get down to explaining why Atonement is such a great album.
Atonement leads off with “The Distorting Light” and some spooky semi-distorted guitar motifs before launching into a full-on old school death metal frenzy. One gets an immediate sense that all the elements that made Immolation stand out in their 1991 debut Dawn of Possession are on Atonement: the semi-rhythmic Slayer-esque motifs, the strategic use of blast beats (that recall Morbid Angel in sense, though not sound), the distinct pinch harmonics at the end of a riff, the crazy complex rhythms, the harmonies that can only be described as “weird,” and so on. Yet, Immolation carefully worked these elements in just the right way so as to show maturity in their writing. They sound like no one but themselves.
Other standout tracks on Atonement include the title track, “When the Jackals Come”, “Destructive Currents”, and “Above All”. Yes, I named five songs on an album with 11 tracks as ‘standouts’. Count it up to good writing. Count it up to just enough musical posturing to let the skill show without making it take away from the songs and the album as a whole.
Count it up also to persevering. Take a look up at the first paragraph in this review to look at Immolation’s ‘starting date’, or just take my word for it that they started in 1986. Their first album, Dawn of Possession, did not see release on Roadrunner Records (who, believe it or not, were ground zero for death metal in the genre’s heyday that was the 90s) until 1991. Think about that for a minute. Think about all the bands who quit after only a few years and never got signed. Immolation worked at it for that long just to get their bloodied, tortured feet into the soon-to-be-descecrated church door.
I remember seeing Immolation on their first tour. They came to Montreal without an opening act and played in one of the city’s smaller, less reputable venues (no names mentioned, but it is a pool hall now and a year before Immolation played there, a non-descript awful band that had me singing and playing bass for it was their biggest attraction on summer weekends; in case the point is not clear, that was pretty pathetic). Local bands opened. My memory of the night is shaky, but there might have been an early lineup of Gorguts present, and maybe a band called Necrosis, who would rechristen themselves to Cryptopsy. That evening’s turnout lacked satisfactory numbers to say the least. Perhaps because I was on the guest list (writing for a regional magazine), Immolation singer and guitarist Ross Dolan turned to me and asked ‘Is there an actual scene here in this city?’ His tone was not rude, but curious.
I said, ‘Pretty big actually. You just came at the worst time. It’s a Monday. Entombed played last Friday, Sacrifice play this Thursday, and we have Obituary at the end of the month. It’s nothing against you, man. People are just too poor to go to too many shows.’
Dolan did not smirk. He did not blink. He did not even change his tone of voice. He said ‘Yeah, I can see being stuck between Entombed and Sacrifice would be bad luck.’ But that did not matter. He did an interview that evening with another local magazine, in which he discussed the origins of the band’s name, how ‘Immolation‘ meant ‘sacrifice’ to them; and all the sacrifices they had to make to get the band to where it was at that point. Then they went out on stage to play through their first album’s material with full enthusiasm and energetic stage presence, dismal Monday crowd be damned. That’s professional.
With that kind of work ethic and attitude, it is no wonder I can sit here over 25 years later and sing the praises of Immolation’s tenth album, an album that shows no sign of them losing their essential, evil brilliance.
FFO: Morbid Angel, Suffocation, Incantation
Notable Tracks: “Destructive Currents,” “Atonement,” “Above All,” “Distorting Light,” “When the Jackals Come.”