Abominant is your quintessential underground death metal band. 23 year career, 10 full-lengths, 2 EPs, a grand total of six reviews on Metal-Archives (not many elsewhere on the web), and a whopping four live appearances listed on setlist.fm. These four dudes are a bunch of Kentucky workhorses – no fucks given about making it rich, getting signed to Century Media, or playing Wacken. Instead, they seem content to continue churning out sweaty Midwestern death metal with a big old melodic kick in the ass until the day arthritis makes that impossible. With a band this seasoned, it’s no surprise they weren’t out to redefine themselves on their eleventh full-length Napalm Reign, but that’s not a bad thing. Surprisingly diverse riffing, no-bullshit songwriting, plenty of catchy moments, and a few odd twists ultimately make the album both a surefire win and a great introduction for new listeners.
While I’m sure the band logo, album title, and terrifically hellish artwork made you ask ‘isn’t there enough Incantation-core on the market?’, hold your horses, partner. Sure there’s a few Diabolical Conquest traces here, but Abominant are closer to bands like Ares Kingdom and fellow Kentucky-ers Fornicus than those Yankees. After a brief bomb raid sample, opener “No Peace” shows this right away with slick melodic tremolos punctuated between deep churning verse guitars, before lapsing into a catchy-as-hell marching chug. Follow-up “Reborn Through Bloodshed” keeps the fire burning with triumphant Arghoslent-style tremolos, Deicide-esque double-tracked vocals, and a terrific mid-song descending melody.
Vocalist Mike Barnes shows there’s enough room in the genre for two guys with that last name, delivering his demonic, war-inspired lyrics with a gurgly mid-register growl and occasional subterranean roar. But it’s the performance of guitarist Timmie Ball that really makes these 43 minutes. “Hordes of Desolation” and “Burning Hemispheres” ride on simple, blunt-force Behemoth riffs, with “Hordes” featuring clean picking and a glorious battlefield-storming finish, while “Burning” works in crypt mongrel leads and a slimy Incantation crawl. Ball shows his penchant for rollicking gallops in the NWoBHM-tinged “The Watchers,” while later songs “Truth Beyond Belief” and “As Evil Rears Its Head” have smidgens of Glorior Belli-esque black metal. The leadwork only further elevates these 11 tracks, with colorful streaming solos and raw Ares Kingdom-style shred helping invoke a nightmarish and pugnacious atmosphere.
Unfortunately, there’s a irritating flaw in Reign: third track “Iron Clad.” With every other song (except for closing Exciter cover “Scream in the Night”) being firmly rooted in death metal, it’s bizarre that the group chose to include a straight-up Bat-style speed metal song on the album, let alone put it so early in the runtime. While Ball’s riffs are still great here, the vocals sound like a sloppy King Diamond muppet and come across more silly than endearing. It’s not awful, but the shift in styles between adjacent tracks is jarring, and I can’t help but feel “Clad” is a misguided attempt at variety that may have been better left as a bonus track or tacked at the end instead of “Scream.”
Fortunately, Reign’s sound couldn’t be more fitting: thick, hot, and stuffy, with booming drums and a clear yet potent guitar tone. After over 20 years, I guess Abominant know what production suits them best, and their experience is apparent in songwriting as well. While often easily digestible with its ABABC arrangements, the group avoid drudgery by alternating catchy main ideas with more malevolent chords, keeping the average song length to a succinct four minutes, and incorporating twists like the false ending in aforementioned “Hemispheres” and the growled speed metal chorus of “The Watchers.” While several ideas – including the medieval Desaster riff of penultimate track “Out of the Shadows” – do sound like simplified versions of the various bands name-dropped above, this only lends itself to the record’s straight ahead, no-frills nature. Ultimately Napalm Reign succeeds at its goal: not to reinvent the wheel, but to light it on fire and send it scorching to the finish on a tread of searing riffs and forged-in-the-underground flair. Just make sure to skip this “Iron Clad” and listen to the Ares Kingdom song instead.