Here at the Angry Metal Guy Emporium of Dreams we ask the important questions – the persistent questions, if our comments section is to be believed… So when I get my mitts on something extreme, a la death metal, I always wonder: did they get it right? There are some bands who are apparently happy to persist in chasing the Kronos endorsed dragon of brutality, though forever destined to never reach our lofty, elitist standards. Some bands plug away releasing record after record of dry, digitized discipline that no one particularly cares to recall. And then there are those acts that manage to seamlessly meld technical proficiency, distinct brutality and that often evasive element of musicality that seasons the broth. Italy’s Hour of Penance have, for me, always been one of those bands, able to reliably mete out the savagery and balance with solid songwriting. Cast the First Stone, clocking in as the band’s seventh outing, thematically follows hot on the heels of predecessor Regicide, but the question here is: do these Italians have another great slab of death metal in the tank, or has the formula begun to fail?
Although hardly polarizing, the band have, on occasion, drawn their share of detractors, criticized for closely following the blueprint laid out by influential acts such as Nile and Behemoth. I, on the other hand, have often found the band’s work a damn sight more reliable than their peers and Regicide was no exception – an album I was surprised to find had received some mixed reviews due to its fractional deviation from the dense pugilism of fan-favorites Paradogma and Sedition. Cast the First Stone is the natural successor; it minutely dials back the technicality in favor of a streamlined, occasionally melodic approach, but this time straddles the line neatly between older material by keeping the punishment unashamedly corporal. Holding true to a concept that supposedly revolves around the “millennial conflict between West and East” and inspired by events such as the tragic attack on the Bataclan in Paris, Hour of Penance have, here more than ever, managed to infuse a particular fluidity into the album, with many of the tracks individually distinct without deviating from the concept, avoiding the pitfalls of suffocating inside the narrative.
First up, single “XXI Century Imperial Crusade” is a straight riff fest and definitely sets out of the album’s stall with a vehement message. Perhaps controversially, I find it to be one of the record’s more forgettable moments, especially when compared with the next song and title track, which takes a straight thrash riff and amplifies it infinitely to great effect. “Burning Bright” is a particular standout, showcasing scathing verse riffs, redolent of early Decapitated, all highlighted by lead guitarist, Giulio Moschini, who exhibits more than a flash of melody throughout the record. His fret-board acrobatics are less frenetic than on earlier releases, with plenty of emotive soloing and dramatic leads. “Iron Fist” features a stirring duel lead, which is juxtaposed perfectly with the track’s abjectly liquefying closing riff while vocalist Paolo Pieri maintains the status quo with his ever brutal, thunder diction, and although his voice does have a tendency towards the monotone at times, it serves to match his ferocious rhythms well.
Relative newcomer, skinsman Davide “BrutalDave” Billia, executes a clinic in stamina by demolishing the album with pulverizing blast beats and adept fills. His drum work seems to absorb every iota of available ear space but somehow manages a sound that still feels organic without tending towards the mechanical, particularly evident on the storming “Shroud of Ashes.” I was intrigued to find more than the usual smattering of symphonic tendencies, which successfully accentuate the tracks with the occasional flourish, although not to be compared with the band’s pseudo-offspring (why no…?) Fleshgod Apocalypse and their overt orchestrations. The production is, unsurprisingly, crushed, but in the context of such a busy album, it mingles with the other elements to lend the record a certain kinetic presence.
Hour of Penance play a ubiquitous brand of death metal, and this can’t be denied. But, if like me, you are attracted to the genre’s intrinsic brutish nature, yet find yourself wading through a sea of prosaic quotidian acts, where quantity is king and quality some kind of repellent anathema, then Cast the First Stone will certainly slake the thirst. Consistency isn’t always a dirty word, especially when it’s consistently this good.
DR: 5| Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Prosthetic Records
Websites: hourofpenance.bancamp.com | www.hourofpenance.net |facebook.com/hourofpenance
Releases Worldwide: January 27th, 2017