One of the things I admire most about metal, aside from its obvious ability to inform and compel, is the genre’s inherent capacity for escapism. Flinging itself from that cosmic top turnbuckle, sometimes life descends on us hard. Between a career trajectory that, when I can look at it without wincing, appears disturbingly Escher-like, and some life decisions you’d be forgiven for thinking only a brain aneurysm could inspire, you better believe I don’t say no when a little distraction wanders my way. Enter God Dethroned, Dutch overlords of all things death and war-like, with their first release in seven years. The World Ablaze represents the final installment in a trilogy of concept albums based on World War I, thus already assuming the character of the record and putting it in direct competition with the mighty Passiondale (Passchendaele) and immediate predecessor Under the Sign of the Iron Cross. Reforming in 2014 to deliver this particular bomb burst, the question is: is it worth the wait?
It’s only fair to mention that I love God Dethroned. From the tectonic “Necromagnon” to the perfection of Bloody Blasphemy, I have drunk long and deep of the deity usurping Kool-Aid. Henri Sattler has always possessed an underrated ability to forge riffs that manage to seamlessly span black, death and thrash metal, with a penchant for sharp and melodic hooks. The World Ablaze is certainly no different, delivering a diverse collection of speeds and leads; in fact, the first thing of note is the album’s eye for varying tempos. After an intro, “Annihilation Crusade” rallies forth and it’s a familiar kind of advance. Blasting drums, thrash inspired melo-death riffs and an intensely memorable chorus are all in play, but the formula, anabolic as ever, has lost none of its potency. Sattler’s voice is noticeably deeper this time around, abandoning his classic sickening harpee rasps in favor of a more guttural approach, making for a fitting inclusion into the record’s historical narrative. The song also features some of Michiel van der Plicht’s finer blastbeats, a convention turned rarity with the album’s protracted pace a notable departure from his frenetic work on Iron Cross.
The title track, a particular favorite of mine, features sharp tremolo sequences amidst bay area riffing and maintains the deft heaviness whilst maniacally brandishing accessibility like a weapon. Between the more deliberate rhythms of “Wrong Side of the Wire” and “Messina Ridge,” the clear Bolt Thrower influence, and not just thematically, becomes increasingly apparent. The application is particularly evident in “Escape Across the Ice,” which marches over slow, militaristic riffing and profoundly succeeds in capturing images of a forlorn trudge through debilitating cold. What compounds each song, however, is the lead work. Newcomer, Mike Ferguson, trades often sorrowful and distinctly elegiac solos with Sattler, and it’s this melancholic element that gives much of the album, and indeed the trilogy it belongs to, a real credibility. God Dethroned deserve an amount of recognition alone for never glorifying the bloody horror that was WWI – each song captures that period of redefining global terror and relates it without too much of metal’s bloody excess; the subtlety is respectfully delivered and gratefully received.
Mixed by the one, Lord Dan of the Swanö, the instruments strike a fine harmony throughout the unobtrusively loud production. Sattler’s voice sits to the fore without dominating the signature guitar tone, keeping the material as vital as ever. None of the tracks are overtly lacking, but a handful are victim of their own archetype. Although one of the album’s faster cuts, “Close to Victory” is so typical of the band’s sound that it fails to be distinctive; similarly, the two instrumental interludes serve no real purpose and are perfunctory at best. Fortunately, “The 11th Hour” surmounts these sidesteps with a gloriously grim doom cadence and a surprisingly classic solo to finally bring the campaign to an end.
I’ve been cautiously optimistic of what fruit God Dethroned‘s reformation would bear, and I’m delighted to say it’s of unequivocally nutritious value. A more than fitting end to a great trilogy, and an album that basks in its creator’s identity, The World Ablaze represents astute conception and acute craftsmanship. With the future of the band ever uncertain, I for one hope that this isn’t a goodbye, but until we are again graced with another festival of searing melodicism, I’ll happily settle for this lingering au revoir.