There’s often a lot of emphasis on the best death metal being progressive or technical – especially around these parts; And often the best death metal is the most progressive and/or technical. Yet, also often, it’s easy to loose sight of what made death metal so appealing in the first place, which was the simple aim of going harder than any other genre. Misotheism is here to remind you of that raw appeal.
Hour of Penance have long played second fiddle to Nile in chasing the perfect marriage of technicality and brutality. As outstanding as much of their output is, they never quite managed to capture the imagination of the metal community the same way their American counterparts, or even their countrymen in Fleshgod Apocalypse. With Misotheism, Hour of Penance have scaled back the technical aspect of their sound and reoriented themselves toward a more streamlined death metal approach, reminiscent more of Bolt Thrower or Bloodbath than Suffocation or Spawn of Possession – albeit still played at the speed of the latter. The result is a more lethal and effective killing machine and, while there might not be as much on Misotheism for the more intellectual death metal fan to grasp onto, it’s sure to leave more hedonistic listeners thoroughly fulfilled.
Misotheism feels so fucking good to listen to! From the all-out assault of “Blight and Conquer” to the slow crush of “Occult Den of Snakes”, the album is a succession of visceral strikes that regularly stagger with their sheer audacity. Though the riffing is (somewhat) simpler this time around, it’s no less immense. The band hardly take their foot off the floor for the first few tracks and the pure, unrelenting speed of it all is simply exhilarating. However, it’s the moment where the Italians pull back a bit that impress the most. By going so hard and so fast straight out of the gate, Hour of Penance set up a contrast that allows their already potent mid-paced sections to hit with far more force than they would in isolation.
When the band drop into a mid-paced grind midway through “Second Babel”, it sounds utterly colossal, with the slow, thundering buildup at the beginning “Lamb of the Seven Sins” only offering enough time for the listen to catch their breath and take stock of the carnage they’ve just been churned through before plunging them right back into it. Guitarists Giulio Moschinini and Paolo Pieri remain on the frontline throughout, but it’s drummer Davide Billia who dictates the charge. His fluid playing underpins every moment, providing the base that holds everything together while also frequently dragging the band in new directions – as if they were merely surfers staying afloat while cutting tricks atop the brutal waves spilling forth from his kit.
The album’s centerpiece – both sonically and numerically – is surely “Flames of Merciless Gods”. Playing with (comparatively) slower tempos allows the listener, for the first time on the record, to be drawn along with the song, rather than being swept along and succumbed. It’s driving riff is captivating, with involuntary headbanging sure to ensue. However, again, the listener is only given a brief moment of respite. The band continue to chop and change whim, and some of the tempo changes are absolutely lethal. The whole thing collapses in on itself around the two minute mark, though it’s only stalled long enough to inspire a short burst of anticipation before the most devastating riff of 2019 kicks in – decimating all before it.
The track’s apocalyptic ending is the closest they get on the album to recapturing the Nile-vibes of records past, and it’ll be interesting to see if the Americans can concoct anything nearly as impressive on their upcoming album as the Italians do here. The staccato bursts of “Sovereign Nation”, which follows bring to mind Demigod-era Behemoth, and it’s laughable to think that such brutality represents a “softer” entry in the band’s catalogue, an dthe same can be said for “Iudex” and “Occult Den of Snakes”, which round out the record in more restrained, yet no-less masterful form.
By switching up their sound slightly, Hour of Penance have set Misotheism apart from the rest of their discography and themselves apart form their competitors. Whether or not Misotheism is the best Hour of Penance album is debatable (although that honour probably still resides with Paradogma (2010) or even Regicide (2014)). However, it is easily their most “fun” and immediate offering. The band are still at the top of their game instrumentally, but by choosing when and where to pull back they’ve delivered an album that is not only rewarding visceral but entirely memorable, while still coming up with something that feels like having an entire cathedral dropped on your head. …and fuck it feels good.
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Misotheism is out October 25, via Agonia Records.