I typically like to treat albums as self-contained works. Music evolves with the artist; any band will tell you that a given record is a time capsule chronicling a band’s creative impulses at a given point, and that, ideally, it should not be beholden to prior albums. Yet certain works regarded as important transitional pieces may not be appreciated as such until years later. Look at how the evolutionary Elegy has attained classic status over two decades despite Amorphis probably facing outrage from their core fanbase upon its initial release. I’m not about to compare Tremendum, the tenth release from Poland’s premiere Behemoth-alike Hate, to Elegy in terms of sheer quality. However, after spending a week with it, it’s become clear that it’s a similarly transformative record that signals a future for the band far removed from their death metal roots.
Tremendum really bummed me out on initial spins. At first blush I interpreted it as a sign of a continuing decline that began with 2015’s uneven Crusade: Zero; I felt that it was riffless and utterly disengaging. Yet further listens proved to be overwhelmingly in Hate‘s favor, and I slowly realized that I had been listening to the album in the entirely wrong context because Tremendum is not a death metal album. It’s a ballsy plunge into straight-up black metal. While the band’s death metal roots can still be felt in the frequently bludgeoning drum performances, their brisk, abrasive riffs have been traded in for atmospheric tremolo lines that seem to stretch into oblivion. In fact, there is no palm muting to be found on this album whatsoever, and while doing away with any semblance of riff precision could have had dire consequences, it doesn’t feel like the baby was thrown out with the bathwater. Even through the loose, jangling chords and restrained tempos, Tremendum sounds authentically Hateful, shouldering the band’s progressive tendencies with ease despite the new aesthetic.
While this transformation into pure black is a surprisingly graceful one, Tremendum does feel somewhat debut-like in some aspects. Though Hate‘s instrumentation has undergone drastic renovations, their melodic tendencies have essentially been left unaltered, and the band isn’t exactly renowned for their killer hooks. With a lack of memorable melody, the songwriting is left to pick up the slack, and thankfully Tremendum’s pieces are engaging and dynamic. Multiple tempos and time signatures are utilized in each track to ensure the music feels like it’s constantly flowing and evolving, with tracks building toward blastbeat-heavy climaxes or gradually descending into dark, methodical codas without feeling meandering. Still, the band lacks the sort of sinister catchiness that elevates otherwise straightforward black metal acts like Dark Funeral, which is a shame; excellent hooks paired with the complexity of Tremendum’s compositions could have yielded a fantastic record.
On top of reinventing their sound, Hate has worked to eliminate the irksome editing and pacing issues that have bogged down the band’s recent output. Tremendum is, at forty-five minutes, Hate‘s most concise record since 2010’s Erebos, and its quality is just as consistent without any filler. The slow building tension of “Asuric Being” and the world (and album) ending cacophony of “Walk Through Fire” respectively make for an excellent opener and closer, and as a result, the album possesses an identifiable and deliberate structure. There are certainly out and out ragers to be found (“Indestructible Pillar” chief among them), but they’re evenly spaced out among the more methodical numbers. The latter approach constitutes my favorite moments of Tremendum; tracks like “Svarog’s Mountain” are impressive works of slow-burning tension that spark with character. If only the production possessed as much personality; though the drums aren’t as sterile sounding as past Hate releases, Tremendum is still plenty loud and bass-less, and the guitar layering sounds muddy and congealed.
I have a feeling that Tremendum will be a somewhat controversial record, and I say that not to instigate controversy but rather to get people thinking about the record in the context that Hate intended. While not an excellent transitional work, it comes across as a confident stride into pure black metal, and the forward-thinking songwriting provides an engaging backdrop despite the flat production and lack of memorable hooks. Patient listeners will find in Tremendum an album with impressive legs to sustain it through several listens, and with any luck will also secure bragging rights from being in on the ground floor for a new, unique phase of Hate’s career.