God Dethroned - _Under the Sign of the Iron Cross_
(Metal Blade, 2010)
by: Mark Dolson (9.5 out of 10)
The Netherland's God Dethroned are definitely not showing any signs whatsoever of mellowing out or slowing down in their old age -- not even close. Actually, on their latest album, _Under the Sign of the Iron Cross_, the second installment of their war-inspired trilogy, the band have decided to take a much more brutal and vicious direction than on any of their previous albums. Gone are those catchy episodes you might have caught yourself humming just after listening to an album like _The Toxic Touch_ (listen to the track "Typhoid Mary" to see what I mean here). Sure, the approach taken on _Passchendaele_ might have presaged the darkened fury that was to come, but to be honest, said album is nothing in terms of the sheer speed and intensity of the riffs showcased on _Under the Sign of the Iron Cross_.

To start, most of the emotive atmospherics that were an intriguing feature on _Passchendaele_ -- such as the amazing clean vocals courtesy of Marco Van Der Velde of The Wounded; or the slower, catchy sections on some of the songs, such as the title track, "Passchendaele" -- are all but replaced by a more straightforward and hard-hitting orientation that leaves no room for emotional indulgence. Fear not, though, as there is one song -- and one song only, sadly -- that features the clean vocals of Van Der Velde (see the track "Under the Sign of the Iron Cross"). There is scant use of piano in one song, too. Some of the songs slow down a little bit in order to give the listener a brief reprieve from the hell-fire that awaits a few moments later (see the endings of the amazing tracks "The Red Baron" and "On Fields of Death and Desolation" -- the atmosphere here is goose-bump inducing for sure). If I didn't know any better, I would think that God Dethroned's mastermind, Henri Sattler, was trying to imitate -- through a musical medium -- the intensity, devastation, and power of the battles of the First Great War.

Inasmuch as my maternal grandfather, alongside his brother, my great uncle, fought with the Canadian and British forces in Belgium during the First Great War, this album -- along with the previous one -- have a great and lasting resonance with me; and, as such, I really appreciate the sophisticated approach to the lyrical content (i.e., their basis in first-person experiences and not fantasy or silly generalisations). Just in case you were wondering, my grandfather and grandmother were quite old when they had my mum, so this puts me directly in touch with an older generation. Back on track, the lyrics for two of the songs from _Under the Sign of the Iron Cross_ are based on the diary of Ernst J√ľnger, a German soldier who fought in the First Great War. Regardless of the fact that my grandfather fought on the front lines against the Germans from 1914 through 1918, or that my great uncle was shot down three times (surviving all crashes with nothing more than a broken ankle) over the same time period, I still have an appreciation for what the German soldiers endured (particularly those not in support of the Kaiser). After all, war is war (in the case of the First Great War, each battle was pretty much internecine), and never pleasant for any soldier, irrespective of what country one has to fight for.

What is really interesting about this new brutal kehr (turn) is that there is blasting in just about every song; but the nice thing about the intricacies of Henri Sattler's song-writing is that the blasting never really gets boring. In fact, it's a necessary accompaniment for the thematics on display here (i.e., war). If you're like me, then the thought of constant blasting will make you think, "oh no, how boring and un-dynamic can you get, man". Well, this is usually what crosses my mind when listening to a band like Hate Eternal (no offense, guys, you're great musicians, but your music is boring to me), but it's a different affair entirely with God Dethroned. Perhaps it's the fact that God Dethroned know how to inject subtle hints of melody (though not much), catchiness (though, again, not much), and epic, frenetic, though controlled, riffs (some of which sound like they could have been from Morbid Angel's _Domination_ album) to their songs. Or maybe it's got something to do with the aforementioned theme of war, and the heaviness and destruction the songs are trying to convey to the listener. Either way, it works; and it works perfectly. The production, courtesy of Soundlodge Studios (Germany), suits the brutality of the music perfectly in that each instrument is clearly discernible without sounding too flat or dry. I will say that this is a modern production, however it's not clinical or lifeless sounding (just listen to any Abyss Studios production to see what I mean) in any way.

Some other noticeable changes from the previous album are the recruitment of a new guitarist and drummer. Danny Tunker (this can't be a Dutch family name), previously of the melodic death metal band Detonation, adds a certain level of contained frenzy with his distinct solo style, characterised by lots of wah-wah effects. And the new drummer, Michiel Van Der Plicht, also of Detonation, adds some bloody furious double-bass ravages to God Dethroned's sound. Roel Sanders, who played on _Passchendaele_, was no slouch, but, seriously, Van Der Plicht's double-bass style reminds me of Yanic Bercier's (formerly of Canada's Quo Vadis) -- fast and controlled, and a pleasure to listen to.

I'll wrap with nothing more than a thank you to Mr. Sattler and Co. for writing such a sophisticated (albeit in a rather brutal way), thought-provoking, and really interesting album. I can't wait to hear the next one; let's just hope it's a little longer than 36:25.

Contact: http://www.goddethroned.com

(article published 27/1/2011)

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