Reviewing is a pretty decent gig. I get to discover new music on an unprecedented scale and I’m able to do so before all of you other dirty plebs. However, we all must pass through the blood-spattered halls of nascent n00bery, and novelty breeds enthusiasm. And with enthusiasm comes error. In 2017 I covered Hour of Penance‘s seventh album Cast the First Stone. I lavished the record with praise, and while not unwarranted, I soon mentally (and now officially) reduced that glowing 4.0 to a respectable 3.5. Now, eighth album Misotheism alights on my ebon desk for another round of pompous perusal. But this time, there’s a notable change in proceedings. The Italians’ evolution has run the gamut from sprawling Nileism to more streamlined demolition. Misotheism delights in the latter whilst ever tipping its hat to the former. But now their typically elaborate signature is inscribed in a notably nebulous ink.
Hour of Penance have always been a great representation of Italy’s brand of death metal. Whether or not you enjoy that particular approach is down to personal preference, but their quality can’t be disputed. In an effort to fend off stagnation, the band have actively attempted to refine their sound since Sedition. Regicide and Cast the First Stone showcased a much more succinct pummeling. Without wanting to carve a potential rut, Misotheism sees Hour of Penance subtly shifting shape once more. This time around, black metal sequences pervade the band’s usual fusion of tech and brutal death metal. However, instead of merely blackening their sound, Misotheism utilizes the new element to exude a palpable atmosphere.
Despite this new flavor, Hour of Penance still maintain death metal at the forefront of their material. Misotheism‘s first half is quick to establish the album’s most immediate songs. “Blight and Conquer” and “Fallen From Ivory Towers” make good use of relentless rhythms but with lashings of faintly melodic leads to accent the memorable riffs. Never a band to sacrifice their extreme roots, “Second Babel” and “Lamb of the Seven Sins” recall the years when Hour of Penance were content only to crush. It’s not until “Flames of Merciless Gods” rears its head that the burgeoning Luciferian light truly shines. Unmistakably frost-bitten chords run rampant alongside the genre’s horizonless approach to blast beats. It’s a welcome modification to the usual Italian oeuvre and an album highlight.
Unfortunately, the problem with Misotheism is increasingly apparent with multiple spins. The first half provides the most digestible fare but after a while, the idiosyncrasies that defined the previous album’s riff palette are absent. The songs are uniformly good, but they have a telling lack of individuality and bleed together a little too readily. However, Misotheism‘s last three cuts pose a serious issue. “Iudex” and “Occult Den of Snakes” are churning gestalt amalgamations of frenetic tech and potent atmosphere. The latter in particular is so immersive that its quality almost begins to retroactively degrade the rest of the track list. Guitarists Guilio Moschini an Paolo Pieri have incorporated a plaintive quality in their soloing but the riffing on these final songs resonates with dissonance. Easily some of their best writing, “Occult Den of Snakes” captures death metal’s cinematic potential and provides a fine setting for Pieri’s formidable growls.
Hour of Penance have often embodied the relentless nature of their country’s death metal scene. In recent years they have also established their capacity for growth, and never more so than on Misotheism. Grinding bouts of extremity and more focused takes on rhythm are all present. But the inclusion of a smattering of inter-genre fluidity opens the band up to all new avenues of experimentation. Absolutely none of Misotheism‘s content is deserving of overt criticism, but some of it is absolutely deserving of real commendation. The discrepancy is just too patent to ignore. At the very least, Hour of Penance have created another indisputably quality entry in an increasingly admirable discography. At the most, they have teased a direction, which could well herald the vile conception of something truly impressive.