Readers already familiar with my preferences will recall that on multiple occasions I have referenced Ulcerate as both pioneers of the growing experimental and dissonant death metal trend and the most creative band since Meshuggah. Bold words indeed, (pun intended), but in truth, Ulcerate‘s last three albums have been so excellent that I had to update the seal of approval I placed on them to a walrus. Pinniped mass shaming aside, one has to wonder whether New Zealand harbors any other interesting island endemics, and if so what similarities they share with The Destroyers of All. It’s a bit unfair to measure Dawn of Azazel using Ulcerate as your yardstick, given that DoA‘s The Law of the Strong predates Of Fracture and Failure by three years; both bands got their start around the turn of the century and started releasing in the mid-2000s. Yet there’s definitely some cross-pollination going on between the two bands, and no matter what direction it’s coming from, I consider it a very good thing.
The Tides of Damocles may be this year’s first truly good brutal death album. It’s heavier than whatever you bench, smarter than the world’s foremost deathcore scholar, and more punishing than Steel Druhm‘s Banhammer. Dawn of Azazel knows damn well how to groove, blast, and slam their way through a prog-death album, and on top of that have varied a 48-minute slab of brutality enough that it’s not a pain in the ass to listen to. “Irresistible Foe” capitalizes on all of this, playing off of a couple fantastic grooves and introducing its end with an Altar of Plagues-style clipped lurch. “Vassalplasty” follows this up with, in its own words, ‘precise aggression and controlled chaos.’ Though these songs don’t have extremely complex or abnormal structures, they’re able to retain a distinctively progressive feeling. In “Controlled Burn” – one of the best-named songs I’ve seen this year – the band tramples through melodeath chord progressions and into a Gojira-esque instrumental cage match and then ends up right back where they started, with Rigel Walshe growling out ‘Let it burn, let it burn! Let it burn on and on!’ underneath your own half-assed rendition of the lyrics. Even the breakdowns in this album are great, though hard to come by. “Progeny of Pain” ends with a slamming vitriol that’s sure to injure some pit-dwellers, and the same goes for the finale of “Vassalplasty.”
Over the course of this album Dawn of Azazel flaunts neighboring influences more and more. “The Eagles Grasp” opens with a riff that can only be described as “Tasmanian,” bringing back fond memories of the last time you listened to “The Colour of Sleep.” There’s a slight Ulcerate vibe to a lot of early-album songs, but closer “Tarnished Gold” takes the cake for Ulcer-aping and is all the better for it. Jeremy Suckling steps up his Jamie St Merat impression with a lot of interesting cymbal work and prodigious blasting, and the guitars begin rotting away in doomy riffs and suffocating atmospheric leads. It’s a somewhat predictable ending, but no less impactful than other songs.
On top of the consistently rewarding songcraft and very tight performances from the trio, The Tides of Damocles sounds quite good, with great bass presence throughout and a very even-handed mix that hits hard but doesn’t give your eardrums hell. Every song is as good alone as it is next to its neighbors, and you can actually listen to the LP all the way through a few times without significant fatigue. That cover is pretty easy on the eyes as well; a complete package if there ever was one.
Be sure to carve some time out of the Sigh binge-listening you’ll be engaging in this week and give Tides of Damocles a good twice or thrice over. I was wrong about waiting for the new Wormed album for your fix of grade-A brutality. Tides is a cut so savory you’ll want to eat it raw.