Immolation – Acts of God Review

As any fan of death metal will attest, Immolation need no introduction. Their contorted take on riff and rhythm has informed the extreme pursuits of an entire generation. To call them influential would be to willfully undermine, not only their legacy, but the fact that their discography is almost spotless. Indeed, back in 2017 I reviewed Immolation’s tenth album, Atonement, and awarded my first ever 4.5. The record captured my attention with its assured sense of self and continues to impress to this day. Now, five years later, I am once more tasked with a brutal burden as eleventh album Acts of God prepares to dip its hand right back into that everlasting fire. And let me tell you, back in 2000 when the band penned the lyric “my skin is melting and it feels so right”, they can only have been looking forward.

Immolation built their legend by forcing the traditional tenets of classic death metal through some twisted dimension of perspective. Guitarist Rob Vigna’s off-kilter brand of riffing habitually strays into dissonance but never too far. As a result, Immolation have always been uniquely recognizable to me. Their music naturally boasts multiple layers but it never fails to leave enough breathing room amidst the twists and fills for a thorough beating. And Acts of God offers just that. It’s heavy, ugly and, importantly, as characteristic as it comes.

Acts of God maintains the same lineup as Atonement but, stylistically, has more in common with Unholy Cult. Whereas Atonement saw Vigna and Alex Bouks engineering layered guitar lines to build an immersive texture, this album focuses more on your nervous system; specifically, setting it on fire. The aggression feels like a creative choice. Almost as if the band were making a concerted effort to actively cause bodily harm. To this end, Acts of God pairs mid-paced grooves with split-second acceleration for infernal results. Tracks like “Noose of Thorns” and “Shed the Light” forge their impact with palpable grooves whereas “An Act of God” is very much business as usual yet still sports one of Vigna’s most cinematic solos. In fact, some of the album’s best cuts maintain an unusually straight trajectory. “Blooded” and “Overtures of the Wicked” are designed solely to crush and they do so with effortless potency.

Sadly, no album is made perfect, and Acts of God is no exception. As weighty as the material is, there’s too much of it. Played start to finish, the record feels overlong. As always, the two instrumentals, “Abandoned” and “”And the Flames Wept” serve no real purpose here, or indeed on any album. But even without them, it feels bloated. Ross Dolan offers his usual guttural exaltations, which are naturally buoyed by Steve Shalaty’s superhuman drum work, but even this classic combination seems to blur together before the album’s end. Although I would still argue that the second half of Acts of God is stronger than the first, fatigue still threatens to set in, regardless. However, the black metal inflections on “Incineration Procession” or the laser-like precision on “Let the Darkness In” are not to be underestimated. In fact, it’s a challenge to find any contender for the editing room floor amongst the full-length tracks.

At this point in their career, Immolation consistently meet our requirements by precisely matching our expectations. Led by one of genre’s most creative guitarists, stirring individual performances and darkly tumultuous songs mark the band’s signature. This combination has carved a reliably abyssal niche for the last thirty years and these New Yorkers show no sign of slowing. While it might be true that the band have eased off on pushing the creative envelope, Acts of God reveals this to be no bad thing. Instead, Immolation have learned to compound their basic formula for increasingly galvanized results. And results like Acts of God are hard to deny. Any fan of the band or genre will find plenty to swoon over here, and those that don’t are, frankly, trying too hard. Death metal is alive and well, thanks, in part, to institutions like Immolation who never stopped honing their pernicious product. Ensuring, once again, we edge ever closer to a world below.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 7  | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Releases Worldwide: February 18, 2022

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