Immolation - _Unholy Cult_
(Listenable, 2002)
by: Paul Schwarz (9 out of 10)
It has been a long road for Immolation; and still, in the ever unjust "scene", these New Jersey natives are not widely recognised. It's a pity really; not only have Immolation "got back on the horse" --- having released three albums in the last four years, compared to their two in the preceding seven -- they've successively bettered themselves ever since Dee Snider / Riot producer Paul Orofino got behind the desk for _Failures for Gods_ (and stayed there). Each new Immolation album has given the band a better-suited and more encapsulating sound, and with each album, Immolation sharpened their skills as twisted, technical death metal songwriters. Unlike so many "good" death metal bands around today, Immolation aren't only for the nostalgia freaks: they aren't struggling to catch up with anyone. Instead, they play their own game. Of course, there is much about Immolation which is -rooted- in the American death metal "tradition" of which they are a part; but these roots are not rules -- or if they are, then Immolation have certainly gone beyond bending them: _Unholy Cult_ moves to its own twisted, lurching and yet ever arresting beat.

If you're familiar with any of Immolation's last three albums, you'll recognise them as the authors of the eight songs here presented after hearing a mere few seconds of any track. Yet when you've given more time to _UC_ -- a full listen to any single track will do -- you'll notice just how far Immolation have come; even since 2000's classy _Close to a World Below_. Though thoroughly brutal and uncompromising, Immolation's fifth album is expertly nuanced, and blessed with a sound that beautifully articulates its tortured malevolence. A sinister amalgamation of magnificent riffs, incredible rhythms, sterling solos and arresting arrangements -- to name but a few of its qualities -- _UC_'s main body is a near-masterpiece of modern death metal.

Unfortunately, there are "buts". Firstly, there's the album's cover. Depicting the crucifixial shadow cast from the top of a foreground church with an evil face -- apparently lupine -- dwelling in its darkness, the image only serves to reinforce scene stereotypes, and will doubtless put off many who would relish the music it encloses. Put simply, _UC_ looks like your average, boring, by-the-numbers death metal album -- though it is actually something much more special. _UC_'s opening minute is also disappointing; a droning three-note progression creates a dynamic which the crushing kick-off of "Of Martyrs and Men" capitalises on; but it's old news. It's a tactic Immolation have used more than once -- on their last two albums, in fact: they would have done well to do something different this time, or at least not repeat themselves in such a bland style.

But the most frustrating part of _Unholy Cult_ is its close. As "Bring Them Down" builds toward a final climax, expectations are running high: but instead of delivering a majestic final stroke -- or bringing proceedings to a close by gradually fading out on a riff as ominously portentous as the one which capped off "The Devil I Know" on 1999's _Failures for Gods_ -- Immolation fade out on a bland repeated progression, leaving you feeling cheated and frustrated. It's unfortunate that these low points cannot be satisfactorily edited out -- as duff tracks could be. Yet, despite their crucial placings, they don't spoil _UC_ but simply mar its near-perfection. Immolation would do well to re-evaluate -- or at least vary -- aspects of their image and overall album structuring in the future; but if they continue to write music as compelling, crushing and differentiated from the norm as they have with _Unholy Cult_, I must admit that I'll keep listening even if they don't vary their more formulaic elements.

[Jackie Smit: ""Of Martyrs and Men" leads Immolation's latest assault; a sublime guitar piece begins the song, hinting at the approach of something unspeakably sinister, before all hell breaks loose. With the force of a nuclear hurricane, the beast that is Immolation roars to life. Make no mistake -- this is as good as death metal gets. Ross Dolan's vocals are immense, powerful, threatening -- an essential cog in the bleak, violently melodic Immolation framework. "Sinful Nature" follows, annihilating any doubt one may have had about Immolation's dominance. Elsewhere, the sprawling, eight-minute title track lends a progressive edge to the proceedings, while "A Kingdom Divided" shows off the band at their most crushingly effective -- almost murderously determined, blending seamlessly through more tempo and riff changes than most so-called "math-metal" bands could ever dream of. _Unholy Cult_ then culminates in "Bring Them Down", the sound of the beast obliterating the final drabs of resistance. If _Close to a World Below_ was Immolation's ascension to the veritable 'next level', then _Unholy Cult_ is the ultimate consolidation of all their strengths and the final expulsion of every single thing that could possibly hold them back."]


(article published 30/6/2003)

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5/10/1996 V Singh Deicide / Fallen Christ / Immolation / Incantation The Wave of Death
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