Part 1 of 6 on Immolation
After years of being into death metal, I finally heard Immolation for the first time last year. This itself requires some explaining (not of a biographical nature). While other premiere bands--Cryptopsy, Suffocation, Deicide--are among the very first bands that a would-be fan will come across, Immolation, however highly esteemed, will always be underrated.
Totally disregarding quality, and speaking strictly anecdotally, the ORDER in which a fan will get into death metal is something like this:
1) hearing Cannibal Corpse when one is a 14-year-old metalhead, and moving into "the harder stuff" from whatever Ozzfest bands.
2) the punk route: getting into death metal through grindcore and a craving for extremity beyond Assuck (nowadays: Insect Warfare)
3) the hipster: death metal seen as an outgrowth of technically-minded indie rock; totally dehistoricized fandom where Death are appreciated ironically, but Gorguts are seen as the pinnacle of death metal.
None of these scenarios could ever lead directly to Immolation--they are not cartoonish enough for children (like Deicide), not poppy enough for punk fans (like At the Gates), not technical enough for "math metal" hipsters (like Behold... the Arctopus). I'll add, Immolation must also be bypassed by hicks (for whom Entombed are the logical entry point), legions of Latino metal fans (Sepultura), and black metallers (black metal). This is what makes a cult band: you only arrive at Immolation by seeking them out, and not for any aura that has attached to them. The one thing you keep hearing about Immolation is... they're really good. And this, curiously enough, is not a big draw.
As it turns out, Immolation ARE really good, but also hard to describe, since what is interesting is NOT their sound but their songwriting. Three aspects of their sound stand out: 1) the incredibly deep vocals, which however are not "gurgled" but are actually somewhat tuneful, with audible lyrics; 2) the lurching, martial rhythms, really atypical of the jazzy fluidity OR grinding rigidity into which most death metal falls; 3) Immolation really *do* have a signature style and sound, but to cognize this requires taking in about five of their albums.
The album before us is their first, Dawn of Possession, from 1991. The closest comparison for me is Morbid Angel's Altars of Madness, but marked by a totally different drumming style. Certainly elements of thrash remain, because this is not at all at the level of abstraction of say, Incantation, Suffocation, Cryptopsy, etc. Nor is this really "technical" at all, although it becomes more interesting and complicated with every listen.
Here's a listenable live version of the first song, from 1991--when the lead guitarist still had hair!
On subsequent records, Immolation would become terrifyingly heavy (but not "extreme"), so it is interesting to hear this straight-ahead riff fest (more or less). "Those Left Behind" is noticeably more complicated and discordant than the all-out songs surrounding it, and points the way towards subsequent releases.
Dawn of Possession, released the same year as Morbid Angel's Blessed Are the Sick, and obviously outclassed by that release, nonetheless does not sound dated (in a negative sense). Although straight-forward and obviously not high art, Immolation do not at all sound *dumb* here, which cannot be said for Massacre or the first Deicide. Like other second-tier classics---not quite Morbid Angel, Death, Carcass, Sepultura, or Suffocation---Dawn of Possession is strictly for metalheads and for fans of history, but not to be overlooked on any account.
More on Immolation in the coming days/weeks.
score: 4.5 stars (**** 1/2)/5
best songs: "Dawn of Possession," "Fall in Disease," "Into Everlasting Fire"