Pure originality is overrated. I mean, yeah, it’s nice when something newfangled pops up and smacks you in the kisser. However, I would much rather see an already existent construct improved upon, re-imagined or perfected in some way. I don’t care if it takes three iterations or four trillion, five-hundred billion, three-hundred-forty-seven million, twenty-thousand-and-two iterations to get there. Hath decided to take blackened prog-death as their base construct, starting off with a mighty enjoyable EP, Hive, in 2015. Folks in the know probably noticed the Opeth-ian stylings of that release, though with a two-ton heavy dose of aggression added for texture. Four years and an additional guitarist later, I sit here greedily ingesting Of Rot and Ruin, the long-awaited debut LP by the New Jersey-based blackened prog-death four-piece. What amount of improvement awaits me?
All of it, actually. While the ‘Peth heritage1 is strong with Hive, Of Rot and Ruin sees the band embracing the DNA of our lords and saviors Slugdge, spliced with their Cthulic cousins Sulphur Aeon, more often. That’s not to say that they sound like a copycat of my absolute favorite bands of the modern death metal scene, but rather that the songwriting has taken a sharp turn towards the infectious, the hooky and the addicting. Varied tempos, all drowning in high-caliber riffs and unforeseen melodies, and an upgraded arsenal of songwriting twists define Hath‘s debut record. In tone and scope, Adam Burke’s magnificently desolate artwork paints an accurate picture for this soundscape of relentless blackened death metal: dry as dust, horizons ablaze in taunting refractions of debilitating heat, the journey ahead infamous for taking swiftly the lives of the weak.
“Usurpation,” the album’s boisterous opener, is a strong indicator of the storm approaching. Out of the gate, a feisty, ballistic riff (courtesy of axemasters Peter Brown and Frank Albanese) bludgeons the unsuspecting listener to a quivering lump on the sand. Venomous growls and shrieks (Frank again and bassist Greg Nottis) follow close behind to extend the assault. Drummer AJ Viana directs the proceedings with scalpel-precise blasts and debilitating double-bass madness, and Greg rumbles dangerously ‘neath the scorching dunes. But wait, what’s this? A chorus‽ Yes, it seems Hath borrowed a page from Slugdge‘s book and slyly incorporated a soaring, yet gritty chorus three-quarters into the song’s runtime. This is a formula that works magic for me, and thankfully the band uses it to their advantage on tracks two and three (“Currents” and “Rituals,” respectively) as well.
At this point, lesser bands would make a critical mistake. They would continue to reuse the formula ad nauseam. Not Hath. The midsection of this record sees the aforementioned Sulphur Aeon splice blooming in devastating fashion (“To Atone”), with denser use of dissonance applied in the trem-picking and more sinister tone moving to the fore. “Accursed” is the epitome and the climax of this hybridization, and is absolutely the highlight of the album, containing what could easily take my Riff O’ the Year slot.
Alas, Of Rot and Ruin is not perfect. There is a small amount of bloat. Fifty-five minutes is about five to ten minutes longer than this needed to be, and songs like “Rituals” and “Worlds Within” keep you hanging on for too long in parts (though the jazzy bass solo on “Worlds Within” is a joy). “Kindling” is an instrumental number that while warm and relaxing at first, becomes forgettable later. At least the record—well, my copy of it, in any case—is remarkably quiet and compressed smartly to preserve as much detail as possible.
A positive review for Of Rot and Ruin was all but inevitable as soon as I detected a hint of Slugdge, but in the end Hath, not hype, earned the score you see below. Thanks to a remarkable improvement in songwriting values since their four-year-old EP, plus a closer investment in inspiration management, the band constructed a monstrous entry into the blackened prog-death annals that owes its existence to those that came before without ever aping them. You all would do well to grab a copy. TheKenWord Hath speaketh!