Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Immolation - Close To A World Below

Immolation - Close To A World Below
2000, Metal Blade Records

It can be very interesting to go back now, at this time in the history of death metal, and trace bands like this to their beginnings - only at times, really, in order to cast further light on where they are going perhaps, but especially in this instance for the painstaking task of gathering evidence to explain their current power. Immolation has always had sonic power to spare, it has been something throughout their career that they haven't seemed to really worry about summoning at any given instant...they just snap their fingers and it's there, the kind of diabolical might that people outside of this genre - or listeners new to the style - have a hard time coming to terms with, or even explaining on its own, separated from all the other musical factors or characteristics that go into making a modern death metal band. This power, a fluency of strength, has never deserted the band. Even on paths that some would say led them astray (I'm thinking of 'Here in After'), lost in an aesthetic or language that could not be resolved easily, a sort of message and series of ideas that evolved ceaselessly, without reaching definite structures or motives and intents, Immolation has always simply crushed through all the obstacles placed in their way, even if they were self-imposed. This virulence, or potency, is their strongest point, and in music it matches well with their own determination as musicians, or as individuals. Now, while 'Failures for Gods' was an unleashing, once again, of this raw power, hardly encircled or encompassed by their creativity (and that creativity's efforts to restrain sonic savagery in the name of melodic art), it can be seen now as a final step on the way to this album, which not only sees Immolation finally resolving the conflict between their melodic originality, rhythmic schizophrenia, and (formerly) unrestrained aggression, it stands as a witness to the maturation of the genre itself, and a time when the first leading lights of the American death metal movement has all reached their own periods of impasse, and struggled through them, evolving, growing, or falling by the wayside. The genre survives nonetheless. But let me ask you: would the Immolation of 1992 have envisioned playing an exquisitely layered piece like 'Fall From A High Place' at any time in their near future? I doubt it. And while we can not exactly say that Robert Vigna's guitar playing has found its way into worlds completely separated from those early days, it is easy enough to demonstrate (to yourself, as an enthusiastic follower of this band, if to no one else) that his view of those worlds (always dark, malevolent, sinister, larger than life, filled with tremendous elemental forces) has grown by leaps and bounds since 'Dawn of Possession', and his rude, rough entry into their domain, trespassing at will among the dead, the decaying, the malicious territories and spirits of the nether (read: internal) world, where it was short and sweet in the old days, as unpolished and pure as any uncontaminated emotion could be, has finally reached the end of a long maturation process. The seeker, in this case, has become the teacher. A virgin slash and vicious reaping motion, across the six strings, has ripened into glorious visions of Hell's layered blasphemies - as the levels of the underworld, so the layers of melody in Immolation's songs. So 'Dawn of Possession' has become 'Close To A World Below', not by repetition and the stale evolution of the death-obsessed, but by the evolution of the inward bound. This album sounds like half a dozen views of Sin's torments and Lucifer's punishments, layered one over another, proceeding stately in a pace that is immemorial because it is doomed, bleeding into each other, escaping from one's view only to reappear in other place, in another time, with another victim. A slice through the Earth's crust and innermost secrets, laying open the multihued (lurid in tones of black and red) cells of individual Hells, and then blending them all into one, because they are already one anyway. The damnation of one man is the fall of all men, and Catholic iconography of Immolation here moves past its overt limits to become statements on or criticisms of the human condition, moving the claustrophobic world of the Sin-cursed firmly into the realm of the universal.

In terms of genre specifics, this album is used by Immolation to display (if not flaunt) every single one of their strengths, most noticeably their rhythmic originality, and the ways that originality can be tied into the melodies of the songs. As in most death metal, Immolation's power comes from the propulsion of short, impacted segments of rhythmic movement, repeated and varied, repeated and varied, repeated and changing...what sounds the same isn't the same, and yet there is enough of the structure intact in the second coming to let you trace the connections between the two, and how they compliment each other. In the third song, for example, 'Furthest From The Truth' all other thoughts are laid to the side and speed becomes the avatar's deliverance, pushing the song forward at a pace so tremendous it is painful to listen to. And yet, even at these extreme velocities the music never ceases to attempt escaping the linear - in the first main segment, for example, the blasting drumbeats and short, staccato riffs appear to be leading straight forward, even while they are, in fact, just straight segments of a line that is always curving, up, down, and into itself again like a Möbius strip. The guitars rise above the rhythms, dictating on one level the direction of the song while they fly ever upwards on another, seeking to arrest the motion of the melodies, ever stopping shrill and piercing through perverse harmonics or tweaked additions. Stop, go, stop, go, stop, up, down, left, right, as if you are caught in Poe's maelstrom and moving so fast your linear progression seems arrested. And yet there is constant movement...this is the secret to Immolation's true gift, as I alluded to in my review of their last album: they write music that moves and stands still at the same time, dances and stands to the side, smiling sardonically, mocking, rises and falls ever upwards and downwards, lives and dies, that surrounds you and then leaves you behind, watching something that you are convinced must be an illusion, a ghost...

'Higher Coward', the opening song, moves upward into the light out of a sea of stress and ambient noise, before giving the lie to Christian apocalyptic cliches, and detailing the creation of the Sheepgod out of the frustrated desires of its pusillanimous followers - who are actually its designers, and who run into the light, once again, to blind themselves from this essential truth. Themes and lyrics aside (it's pretty safe to say that Immolation are always going to be waging a war against Christ-insanity), the music is what motivates me here. Monstrous, megalithic scythes gleaming with cast-off lightning fall again and again, reaping through the souls of 'good' and 'evil' alike, and Immolation turn this grim soundscape illustrating the evisceration of hypocrisy into a macabre dance with bouncing, pulverizing rhythm work. Ross chokes, swallows, and grinds his esophagus against the microphone, swelling his throat like a poisonous viper and spewing vitriolic visions into the eyes of the lost. His voice is like the grating of coffin lids, the cemetery gravel crackling under one's feet while serving as a pallbearer, like torrents of black rain falling on arms stretched upwards towards the Great Nothing. In the midst of 'Furthest From The Truth' he is transformed into an Anti-Preacher, himself an apostle, and his words ring out through a cursed, drowned landscape as souls scream in defiance and pain just behind him. Absolutely beautiful.

Since the beginning this group has stood alone, and they continue to march onwards: completely original, a final statement of the boundaries and abilities of their self-imposed genre, and a masterwork, in themselves, of the process of musical and/or stylistic evolution, as their albums now demonstrate (and this one brings the entire thing to a close, completing the circle) a path that seemed to lead outward, opening into the world, reflecting their own rage and hatred on the irises of others, and yet I believe (and feel, truly) that while there are people now calling this the 'most accessible' of this group's works, it is only so in the sense that their music has become so personal and expressive that it now has the power to cast their inner world in a light of individual transcendence, letting others find their own lost dreams in the inferno that these eight songs immediately blossom into, and as Vigna and his cohorts (brothers beyond the causes of the everyday) fall ever deeper into their own hearts and minds, finding again and again inspiration in their own lives and histories, so do they mirror more and more of the world they have seen through the last ten years, the world that has been completely colored now by a creation that was, in turn, brought out of the depths of themselves. A self-perpetuating machine, Immolation, and a force that has been made immortal by all the energy sacrificed in its name by these four outstanding musicians...yet another matchless work by America's best death metal band.