Join me, dear reader, as I travel back through the mists of time to that forgotten era known as the early 90s, when all you needed to form a death metal band was a healthy love of Satan and the letters A-T-I-O-N. Yes, back when Bart Simpson’s puckish irreverence first caused scandalized parents to clutch their pearls. Back before some of the writers on this site were yet saddled with existence, but well after Steel Druhm had received his first pension check1. While Tampa Bay and New York became hotbeds for the burgeoning death metal scene, Imprecation coalesced in the relative obscurity of Missouri City, TX. Although they never released an album before disbanding, a compilation of demos was released in 1995 and became something of an underground phenomenon. After reuniting, their first official full-length Satanae Tenebris Infinita was finally released in 2013, making this year’s Damnatio Ad Bestias their sophomore record almost 30 years after forming. So what does a band so long in the tooth bring to a metal scene that has since kaleidoscoped into nearly infinite permutations?
Imprecation brings old school death metal, and they bring it hard. And dirty. And a little bit sloppy. There are lots of big, chugging riffs and tremolos that bring a hint of blackness from tip to toe on Damnatio Ad Bestias, but there are also plenty of slower passages, giving the whole album a measured pace. Normally I’d accuse a band with this sound of Incantationanegans, but seeing as how the two formed concurrently from the same mass of swirling influences, Damnatio Ad Bestias is instead a further development of these Texans’ Imprecationality. Vocalist Dave Herrera’s death growl has aged like wine, perhaps losing a little force but gaining a smoky rasp. The guitar work in general is well varied with occasional blistering weedley-weedley solos mixed among down-tuned riffs, while Ruben Elizondo’s drums are propulsive, if sometimes too loose. More on that later.
The greatest strength of Damnatio Ad Bestias is compositional variation. No song rises above the rest as a standout, making it hard to pick memorable moments, but each composition evolves enough to maintain forward momentum. “Temple of the Foul Spirit” opens with a deceptively slow death doom lurch that speeds up in stages. These near-doom elements crop up throughout the album and provide moments of relative rest in the midst of the dirty and brutal OSDM. Penultimate track “The Shepherd and the Flock” features both the slowest tempo and the most menacing atmosphere, while “Baptized In Satan’s Blood” strikes the perfect balance between searing tremolos and neck wrecking chugs. Sudden clear guitar melodies are occasionally introduced to the grime, always at just the right moment. For being one of the OG DM bands, Imprecation have kept things surprisingly nimble in the composition department.
Nimble is unfortunately not a word I’d use for all of the performances on Damnatio Ad Bestias. Herrera’s vocal delivery has a tendency to lag a half step behind the band, and he’s not alone. Drummer Elizondo never fully swerves out of his lane, but he definitely hits the rumble bars on the shoulder and even occasionally drops a tire off the pavement. These timing issues are most evident on sudden tempo transitions and contribute at least one distracting moment to just about every song. There’s a fine line between “charmingly loose” and “sloppy.” For me, these issues tip toward the latter.
Lyrically, Imprecation are not subtle. Aside from the occasional “Fuck your God! Fuck your Jesus Christ!” exclamations, Damnatio Ad Bestias is absolutely saturated with growled Beelzebubs, Lucifers and Satans. Post-reunion interviews I’ve read feature Herrera bemoaning metal kids these days while touting the true Left Hand Path (the Baphomet magic stuff, not the album). It’s unsurprising given the scene that spawned them, and it’s not like these themes aren’t purveyed by younger bands, but, hot take alert, I find this un-ironic orthodoxy infinitely more tired than the most meat and potatoes OSDM riff.
Damnatio Ad Bestias will undoubtedly appeal to fans of the old school who like their death metal a little bit filthy and aggressively blasphemous. I find myself enjoying most of the songs well enough while they’re playing, but none linger in the ol’ memory afterwards. Add to this distracting moments of messiness, and Imprecation‘s latest offering becomes a middling experience.