Review: Imprecation – Damnatio Ad Bestias
Everything is unholier in Texas.
Sometimes a single band, influential as one can be, gets credited for their contributions to modern styles that go beyond what they actually did in their heyday. Incantation in particular is a very strong contemporary example. While their mark can be heard in a variety of blackened and doomy death metal, especially the so-called “cavernous” style, a similarly impressive degree that explains much of the droning ambience and near ambient songwriting could be attributed to bands like Demoncy and Portal during the late 90’s and early 2000’s while in before them, American bands such as Infester, Crucifier, Decrepit, and the subject of today’s review, Imprecation fleshed out quite a bit of territory distinct from Onward to Golgotha and Mortal Throne of Nazarene. These Texans have endured quite a few comparisons to their better known Pennsylvanian counterparts over the years but developed their approach parallel to them, differing notably for example with their rigidity in rhythm and Finnish death metal tinged sound. While it would take them a little over two decades before their debut album, thankfully this sophomore didn’t suffer as long of a wait and showcases a change towards faster tempos and a viciousness not seen since their earliest material.
Damnatio Ad Bestias is a kind of blackened death metal hearkening back to the earliest days of American death metal taking shape. A large portion of it brings to mind the advancements that the post-Slayer wave of groups such as Morbid Angel, Sadistic Intent, Malevolent Creation, and Incubus brought to the table in terms of structure, pacing, and technique. However a notable black metal tinge not Norwegian or even South American but American in origin, bringing to mind Profanatica’s lengthy single note riffs as well as the abrupt tempo shifts and melodic shapes of doomier early Finnish death metal like Abhorrence and even Demigod also inform their sound. It’s a beefy sound that’s capable of morphing the low-register carnage of the early American scene, with a slight thrash tinge, into distinct melodies and broad textures. For the sophomore, the aggression level has increased, not like their earlier Blasphemy-meets-Suffocation approach, in a way that brings to mind Tucker era Morbid Angel though thankfully not enough to really become a full on modernized sounding band like Hate Eternal and Nox or even one of the faster “old school” styled ones like Ascended Dead and Ritualization. Blast beat sections with riffs racing to keep up now play a more prominent role in their sound in breaking up tempos. Even some of the slower, doomier sections have a bit of a jutting angularity to them though string-bending dissonance in general doesn’t pop up. In total, a leaner and meaner band has emerged that gets to the point faster while snapping twice as many necks on the way there.
With this in mind, the new Imprecation is still as recognizably morose and funereal as it was in 1995, just with a more streamlined approach to their oomph. Songs work between moments of punchy palm muting crunch chords and lengthier tremolo runs, balancing tension and resolution with moments of both looming evil and invigoratingly explosive power. Whereas their modern-day descendants frequently run into the problem of song portions blurring together into a static haze, Imprecation’s 90’s upbringing is immediately clear in how they’re able to take a number of disparate segments and morph them into a singular voice and vision. It’s not full-blown order within chaos as was the norm in much death metal from then but rather they gradually flesh out different aspects of their songs in a manner that while drawn out, never really feels bloated. Their songwriting takes multiple thematic strands and having them converge through various shifts in direction and tempo onto the thematic core of a song, gradually revealing an idea through multiple changes in tempo and riffing style. Whether it’s through punchy midpaced crunch or rush hour traffic mayhem, they have a knack for embedding simple but memorable tremolo portions and using successive parts to feel like iterations of the same underlying idea. Subsequently the album’s higher speed doesn’t just derive from the higher level of blasting but also how much more quickly they jump into new riffs and ideas while still finding time for moments of semi Bolt Thrower style crawling chords.
The album’s main shortcomings come in the form of the occasionally somewhat sloppy sounding drumming, not enough to be on the level of a drunken Sarcofago rehearsal, but sometimes it sounds as if it struggles to keep up with the rest of the band in terms of timing and consistency. Other times the band sound a little too eager with their newfound love of high velocity tenacity and a couple of sections come off as a bit hasty or rushed. I personally didn’t find either of these to be crippling however and this is overall an improvement from 2013’s Satanae Tenebris Infinita, injecting a newfound energy and vivid red-eyed hunger into a classic sound. I’m not quite sure if there’s that much else to build on here beyond the obvious improvements to make in terms of pacing and drumming. Perhaps more slow burning numbers like “Hosanna Ex Inferis” and “Vomit Floods of Christian Remains” would be nice as the album feels oddly lacking in what are often their strongest moments. Other than that, this is a worthy addition for the recent wave of bands taking classic ideas and turning them into their own.
3.5 out of 5 Possessed Latrines