“This ain’t your father’s death metal!” Too often do reviewers or promos use this cliché, but in the case of Hate Eternal, I beg to differ. They decidedly are my father’s death metal, but not because he’s ever cared about or even heard a note from them, but rather because the band, particularly Erik Rutan, embody the traits my father values and passed on to me. Rutan’s brutal studio reputation of pushing musicians’ talents to their limits and then a bit further is precisely how my father and I work on any project together. There’s a certain honesty to Hate Eternal’s music, an honesty which can only come from toil. No matter the results, my father cared about two things: if I was happy, and if I had given it my honest best. When I listen to Upon Desolate Sands, I can hear that Rutan, virtuoso bassist J.J. Hrubovcak, and drummer extraordinaire Hannes Grossmann can answer both with an emphatic yes.
The ethos of Hate Eternal is the same as always. A nearly relentless wall of sound greets the listener, a test to weed out the faint of heart. Those who hear mere noise leave it at that and those who become fans find something to latch onto: a riff here, a hook there, an impossible drum pattern, or some creative vocal phrasing. When listening closer, the details pop out: this is Morbid Angel’s Steve Tucker period with the intensity cranked to eleven and the experimentation heavily circumscribed. The relentless ebb and flow of Immolation is there too, but again we find it regimented and contained. We see that the wall of sound is meticulously constructed, with nary a note out of place.
This meticulousness doesn’t translate to stagnant music, thankfully. Opening assault “The Violent Fury” is just that, recalling the taut thrashing from King of All Kings’ “Servants of the Gods” in spots, and in others, the more expansive nature explored from Fury and Flames onwards. Akin to the didgeridoo on I, Monarch, the title track here briefly uses Middle Eastern melodies in the guest vocals, and Rutan’s maturity as a songwriter finds the inclusion less jarring than the didgeridoo. The song shares much with “Bringer of Storms” in its measured pace and is placed well as the penultimate track on the record. It’s structured as a small epic, and Rutan’s trademark melodicism (you’ll know it to hear it) comes in full force at the end to provide a climax to the record as a whole. The somber and touching instrumental “For Whom We Have Lost” shares in the rage and sadness of “Tombeau” and works nearly as well.
While Hate Eternal has always been supremely fortunate with their drummers (Tim Yeung, Derek Roddy, Jade Simonetto, Chason Westmoreland), Grossmann may be the best of Rutan’s recruits. His work in “What Lies Beyond” makes a great song better, especially the intricate tom and cymbal work in the chorus. Grossmann’s command of nearly every conceivable type of blast beat gives an odd sophistication to the excellent “Vengeance Striketh,” where the Morbid Angel-isms shine through brightly in the riffs. In the ending, Rutan gives himself room to display his further improved skill as a lead guitarist (a constant improvement on this front is a feature throughout Hate Eternal’s career), and it is Upon Desolate Sands where he cements his inimitable style like his former bandmate Trey Azagthoth once did. “What Lies Beyond” sees a short but stellar lead from him, technical but not masturbatory, consonant but no less vicious.
On Desolate Sands is the sound of a band at the peak of their powers, rivaled inconsistency, intensity, and quality only by Conquering the Throne. In the production department, Rutan has achieved a sound here that melds the precision and clarity of Infernus with the thick tones of Fury and Flames, serving the songs to perfection. Every detail, of which there are many, is heard clearly, from Grossmann’s unbelievable drum performance to Hrubovcak’s impeccable bass work. With every detail being worth hearing, this is a boon. It’s too soon to tell if this is the best Hate Eternal record, so I won’t speculate. What I can say is that during each listen, I couldn’t escape the feeling that On Desolate Sands was the record that Rutan has been building up to writing, the culmination of each element of his musical vision, the fruits of ceaseless labor. Death metal fans ought to savor this triumph.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist Records
Websites: hateeternal.bandcamp.com | hateeternal.net | facebook.com/hate.eternal
Releases Worldwide: October 26th, 2018