Immolation - Acts of God (2022)Release ID: 34382
The Old, Deathly Guard
Death Metal and I have an interesting history in that there’s hardly any history at all. I was painfully unaware of more traditional Death Metal as I started with Opeth and proceeded to trek down the more melodic, progressive, and technical route with bands like Insomnium, In Flames, and Falljuah. It would take me a few years of slowly being exposed to the heavier, filthier, and more rhythm focused Death Metal acts before finally starting to check out some of the classics like Death, Cryptopsy, and Bolt Thrower. So, when I saw that Acts of God had released, I made the horrific realization that I haven’t listened to a single Immolation album released before 2017. Whoops. Normally I’d do my due diligence and go back to do some research, but since Immolation is such a massive name in the genre, I figured it’d be neat to have a unique perspective going into Acts of God.
The lengthy track listing made me a bit wary at the start as I’ve struggled with Death Metal albums that keep the song length relatively short in the past, but Immolation wastes no time in providing competent variety and pacing to keep each 4-minute track fresh. Acts of God feels uncompromising towards the Death Metal genre in the best of ways, as it heavily adheres to the tried-and-true formula while being written and performed so well that it still manages to distinguish itself from other albums that utilize outside elements or gimmicks. It’s dense, chunky, and dissonant as well as melodic at all the right times, but not overwhelming as the mixing and production allows much more breathing room between the chugging guitar and the hammering drums than what’s usual with modern Death Metal production trends. Acts of God has a ton of depth that took me a few listens to pick out as the guitar, drums, and vocal interactions can be really creative and not immediately apparent. I’m especially critical of the more brutal side of Death Metal vocals and while I’ll say that Immolation does suffer from not having the variety in vocals I prefer, I ultimately warmed up to Dolan’s performance towards the end. He has strangely amazing annunciation for how deeply guttural he is, which only adds to the power of his performance that weaves in and out of nicely complementing the riffs to being utterly chaotic. I’ve always struggled with the more brutal and dissonant styles of Death Metal and those portions still trip me up on this album, but the songs are so short and some of the transitions are so clean that it didn’t end up bothering me too much in the end.
Where Acts of God shines is the guitarwork and its interplay with the drumming throughout the entire album, asserting itself as one of the best collections of traditionalist Death Metal riffs through both their compelling simplicity and hidden complexity. In an era where Death Metal acts have evolved to incorporate slews of elements to make their riffing heavier and more gruesome, there’s something about the basics being performed incredibly well that seriously grew on me. Couple that with a drum kick sound that actually adds to the thick, dark atmosphere instead of cutting right through and it creates a ruthless base for Immolation’s guitarists to dig into a variety of riff structures throughout the album. “Noose of Thorns” is the best example of Immolation’s riffing style and how they transition between them, starting off with a more melodic riff that eventually builds and morphs into a chaotic flurry of dueling guitar leads and drum fills before breaking down into a chugging variation on the opening riff before reprising the main theme at the end. All of the other, shorter tunes follow a similar formula albeit with more abrupt transitions that hardly ever miss their mark.
Despite there being a ton of subtle variety within Acts of God, there isn’t enough blatant variety for someone like me towards the middle of the album. While the album starts on a great run of four songs, the section between “Shed the Light” and “Broken Spirit” feels lackluster compared to the beginning and end, despite “Incineration Procession” having one of the stronger opening riffs. “Derelict of Spirit” is an absolutely brutal start to the back portion of the album that eventually closes on their most intricate track “Apostle”, ending the album on an extremely high note. I’m aware of my lack of patience when it comes to traditional Death Metal albums, so it’s not a surprise that Acts of God doesn’t keep me interested for its entire runtime, but it’s a refreshing experience to continue to get quality, no gimmicks Death Metal from one of the genre's classic bands. It may lack the spice that I look for in my modern Death Metal, but this style will always sound timeless when done correctly.
I have listened to a lot of death metal in my lifetime. Give or take a couple of years, I have been active in the genre from its beginnings and have explored all manner of variants, sub-genres and cross-genre blending over the last 30+ years. In that time, I have seen bands hit real runs of form in terms of consistency and finding their peak output (Death from more or less start to finish) as well as simply finding amazing one-off releases from the more obscure artists in the far corners of the globe. I have watched bands like Morbid Angel define the very essence of the genre and then tragically run out of gas yet inexplicably carry on despite there clearly being nothing in the tank, whilst other old favourites like Obituary seem to have more than enough determination (if not necessarily the quality of old) to still bang out some serious death metal material.
Inevitably with so many choices out there, some bands slip through the net initially. Some quite well-known names in fact because I did not listen to any Immolation until well into the noughties. Over time, as I have discovered more and more of their output, they occupy a rarefied space in my buying habits whereby I will buy pretty much anything they put out, cold. Whilst I am unable to stipulate that the band has a flawless discography, their levels of consistency for over three decades is unable to be matched by many of their contemporaries. Such is my admiration of them I waited three long months to listen to their latest offering on vinyl as opposed to just going for the instant streaming option that is so easy access nowadays.
For reasons I will go into shortly, I undertook a second full listen through in the digital format as there was a genuine need to compare the two following my initial spin on my trusty turntable. The over-arching statement first though is that this is Immolation through and through. Technically capable without being overly technical death metal, urgent without being sloppy and beastly without needing to be utterly monstrous at the expense of structures or form. You could pick this album up knowing nothing about the band and tell instantly that this is a record written and performed by guys who have been around the block a few times and who know their stuff as a result. The disdain for organised religion still sits at the heart of their lyrics and song themes and instrumentally they still balance pace and tempos well to offer a varied playbook out of which they pull every play possible over a lengthy fifteen tracks.
Complete with superb artwork from Eli Kantor, Acts of God is an album staged on very familiar and welcoming ground. However, as much as there is to be celebrated, there are also some challenges which keep the scores on the doors well away from being a full compliment. Firstly, Acts of God is too long. Now, this is not to say that it outstays its welcome – far from it. As a vinyl experience though you have two discs to play and each side averages around three songs so the overall experience gets a bit stop-start. Absolutely my choice to go with vinyl of course, but this really emphasises that there is a lot to get through here.
As I mentioned above, once I had heard the vinyl version of the album I reverted to the digital version for my next run through. There were two reasons for this. Oddly, Dolan’s vocals sounded too monstrous upon first listen, to the point of them sounding artificial. Clearly just an oddity in the formats as this is not an issue on the digital version. I also thought the production sounded a little too muddy on the vinyl format and again, this is not an issue with the streamed format. Whilst neither of the above challenges ruin the listening experience overall it was worth exploring the detail on this occasion. Worthy of noting that the album sound on vinyl is (as you would expect) absolutely huge.
Although by no means flawless, Immolation’s eleventh studio offering is well worth the five-year wait (as well as the extended couple of months due to issues with the vinyl pre-orders). It still sounds like a mature, well-established death metal band that are still able to sound relevant and individual at the same time. There cannot be many more of these in the tank – at least not based on my already noted experience of other bands in the genre who began at approximately the same time – and so to all intents and purposes Acts of God should be celebrated for the fine death metal album that it is.
I was generally favourable to Immolation when Here In After was featured in the Metal Academy challenge last year. And rightfully so; for a band that was important to the technical death metal scene during the late 90s, it was impressive to hear how much focus there was in those songs, to go along with some great songwriting chops and melody. It was with this information that those who were a lot closer to Immolation saw Here In After as a red herring; still good, but the polish was not to many metal fans taste.
So going into Acts of God I had no expectations and I got a solid dose of technical death metal with some more solid production, while still maintaining the sheer brutality that technical death metal is known for. However, for a band this chiseled and established in the scene, I cannot really find all that much to get excited about. This sounds very comfortable and safe, but in the style of Close to a World Below instead of the more melodically driven albums. But it does not need to be pushing any boundaries at this point. Longtime Immolation fans will surely enjoy it, while newbies can certainly find some ideas that make this band stand out from other death metal acts.