Predatoria’s debut EP, Unmarked Graves…Tell No Tales is one of the best death metal EPs I’ve ever heard. It’s crushing and catchy, merging the best aspects of Bolt Thrower and Amon Amarth with a vocal performance that reminds of Chris Barnes on Torture Killer’s Swarm. Given that I’m fond of all those things, the skillful mixture of them into twenty-odd minutes of death metal glory was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Predatoria needed only to put a CD in my mailbox, which certainly helped decrease their horse budget and made washing my sheets a decidedly pleasant experience.
Three years later, Predatoria has evolved and diversified their sound a bit. The vocals remind more of Immolation’s Ross Dolan than Barnes this time around, both in phrasing and overall sound. The base of Amon Amarth and Bolt Thrower remains but has been expanded into previously uncharted territory. Instead of the awesome melodic triumphalism which reigned supreme on Unmarked Graves, Predatoria now often embraces some darker melodies that remind of At the Gates’ To Drink from the Night Itself. The production has been made tighter, less chunky, and more precise. This puts me in a strange position, because while Predatoria has moved incrementally away from their near-perfect sound, I still enjoy heartily what they’re doing on Casting Shadows.
“Kristallnacht” is the fifth track of ten, and it was the first one that truly blew me away here. The song revolves around dual guitar harmonies, but some heavy riffs are interspersed in there to break things up. Melodically, this sits between At the Gates and Amon Amarth, sounding at once powerful and pensive. The climax at the finale is stunning, a brief reminder of why you enjoy this type of music or a reason why you ought to. “Their Life, Their Grave” executes a similar idea well, benefitting from excellent harmonies in the verse and superb lead work, making the “Unmarked Graves but darker” idea click wonderfully. Grand finale “Casting Shadows” has an utterly monstrous Bolt Thrower riff as an introduction, and then brings some effective Realm of Chaos style blasting to the party in its verse. Also good is the Bolt Thrower by way of Suffocation slam section that closes out the record.’
That ending, while good, made clear the shortcomings on Casting Shadows. While the last proper song on Unmarked Graves ended with unadulterated melodic excellence (plus a tacked-on outro, forgivable because of how good the preceding material was), this ended on a good heavy riff, which seems like a step down. “Written in Blood” is a fine death metal song but recalls a simplified Kingdom of Conspiracy more than Predatoria. The chorus melody is dissonant in spots, treading into unfamiliar territory cautiously instead of charging into glory as on Unmarked Graves. The overall issue, one which pervades much of Casting Shadows, is that Predatoria’s refreshing take on death metal has jettisoned much of the Amon Amarth-isms and favoured a more straightforward take on Bolt Thrower left to fend for itself. “Killed in Action” does this, and while it’s a good song it falls short of the vigor and melodic sensibility of Unmarked Graves. In “Their Blood on My Hands” we find boilerplate death metal tremolo runs substituted for the huge melody that would break up the Bolt Thrower worship. The final twenty seconds of the song feature a stellar lead that I would have loved to hear more of, but it’s great while it lasts.
I can’t help but feel slightly disappointed after repeated spins of Casting Shadows. I thoroughly enjoy what Predatoria has done here, but it seems like they pivoted slightly away from those elements which made them so special on Unmarked Graves. There’s no shortage of quality material present, and there’s nothing outright bad; the worst we get is a relatively minor dip in quality on a couple of tracks. It’s records like this which make reviewing difficult business. I owe nothing here but honesty, and I can honestly say that, in one sense, I’m underwhelmed by Casting Shadows. If I abstract and pretend Casting Shadows is from an unrelated band, it’s a strikingly convincing debut that leaves me hopeful for a follow-up knockout. But I’m not reviewing another band, I’m reviewing Predatoria – and I’ve heard them do better. I have no doubt whatsoever that the follow-up will be a worthwhile slab of war-themed death metal, just as Casting Shadows is. I can only hope that the well which produced Unmarked Graves has not yet run dry.