Some bands make fans wait years between releases and drive them bonkers with their lack of productivity. Others like Finland’s Decaying release an album every year like clockwork. One to Conquer is the fourth album I’ve been dealt since joining AMG and though they started as a blackened death act, they quickly morphed into war metal enthusiasts, taking heavy inspiration from Bolt Thrower, Hail of Bullets and Asphyx. While I found much to enjoy on their Devastate debut and got behind the all out Bolt Thrower attack of Encirclement, things peaked there, and 2013s The Last Days of War saw their writing recede into something more pedestrian and watered down. One to Conquer is pretty much the companion piece to Last Days, with all the same battlefield drama and the pluses and minuses that go along with it, except this time the negatives are more pronounced, with the positives less prominent. Call it battle fatigue, diminishing returns or what have you, but the front lines are looking increasingly unstable for Decaying.
Opening instrumental, the regrettably titled “Frequent Wind,” is either the Grand Poobah of ESL failures or an overdue exposé of an embarrassing medical condition too often ignored by purveyors of war based death metal. Either way, it had the AMG staff giggling like school girls and it’s the only true rival to Enjoy of Deep Sadness for Worst Song/Album Title of 2014. Once off that land mine, things improve with the generic but fairly effective death rattle of “Fall of Saigon” which is aided by some authoritative riff patterns and enough energy to power things along to the finish line. “Zero Hour” is more furious and thrashed out, with lots of harsh, rasping vocals, and though they can’t overcome a feeling of “been there, heard this, got shot in foot,” it’s a respectable song.
There are other such respectable moments, like the doomy title track with riffs lifted from the early Cemetery albums, and the more grinding “The Balance of Power” where they come closest to Hail of Bullets levels of quality. Even the 10 minute long “Ho Chi Minh Trail” is serviceable with some interesting moods and good musical choices that keep things interesting. The problem is that nothing here truly grabs me and makes me need to hear it again. Much like the latest Obituary, it’s listenable, but barely memorable background death for the times you need…background death.
Thankfully, One to Conquer is a very short album, at seven full tracks and 42 minutes and it goes by in a flash, even if little of it sticks with you. Aside from the lack of staying power, the production leaves the material underserved when it comes to impact. As with the last album, the guitars simply aren’t heavy or powerful enough for this kind of metal. If this wasn’t apparent enough, the point was driven home because Decaying had the misfortune of being reviewed in the same week as the new Just Before Dawn, and they bring so much more firepower, heaviness and savagery to their war metal, Decaying just cannot compete.
One the positive side, Natias Nastolin does a very good Martin Van Drunen (Hail of Bullets, Asphyx, ex-Pestilence) impression, and that adds a sort of credence to the war stories they spin. While he sounds fine, he often ends up having to supply all the heaviness, since the guitars are too inoffensive and lacking in punch. This leads to much of the material feeling like death metal lite, when most want their war metal to be death metal extra spicy. The riff-work by Nastolin and Henri Hirvonen is solid, if rote, and they definitely borrow a lot from their betters. They do their best work on the lengthy “Ho Chi Minh Trail,” but sadly, much of the music is stuck on average, with only moments here and there rising to good.
It feels like Decaying has been stuck in a foxhole on the past two albums, rumbling along without hitting the potential heard on their early works. Maybe they need to be a bit less prolific and take more time to coddle and massage their song writing skills. They sure as hell need to look into a heavier, more raw sound if they expect to compete in the dog-eat-Nazi world of war metal. Anything less would be bringing a Super Soaker™ to an artillery fight.