March 18, 2010

Album Review: "Majesty and Decay" by Immolation

Immolation is one of the few New York death metal bands to survive the 1990s more or less intact. Only two of the band's founding members remain, and their new home, Nuclear Blast Records, is the band's fourth label since their inception. However, unlike their more famous counterparts in Suffocation, Immolation has never had a hiatus in their career, and their musical output has maintained its consistency over nearly two decades of existence. 1991's Dawn of Possession remains a classic album in the American death metal scene, and through hard work and perseverance, Immolation has kept the New York death metal scene alive and relevant. The band has expanded their musical territory slightly in recent years, branching out into more technical song structures while incorporating a wider range of lyrical themes. Majesty and Decay, Immolation's eighth studio album, upholds the band's reputation for consistency, while also displaying some evolution in composition.

Most of this album is standard fare for Immolation, continuing where 2007's Shadows in the Light left off. Drummer Steve Shalaty delivers an excellent performance, keeping precise timing through intricate beat changes, while also sustaining an unrelenting double bass attack. Robert Vigna's solos add freshness and prevent the songs from sounding monotonous. However, the album falters on some of the longer songs like "The Rapture of Ghosts" and "The Comfort of Cowards". These songs start to drag out and lose their appeal because of how many times certain sections are repeated, and even the time changes and solos within the songs don't do much to avert this appearance. Conversely, the band excels on short songs like "A Token of Malice", where the technical elements drive the song forward and eliminate the need to return to previous sections.

One aspect of Majesty and Decay that immediately catches the attention is the emphasis placed on atmospheric elements and creating bigger soundscapes than previous albums have attempted. On several songs, Vigna modifies his solos and leads by using an echoing guitar tone similar in sound to a keyboard. The resulting ambiance is similar to the style of European death metal bands like Behemoth and Vader, blending the genre's inherent brutality with black metal vibes to create a more memorable and unique sound. This style sets Immolation apart from their peers and shows exceptional growth on their part. "Divine Code", "A Glorious Epoch", and the title track are the songs where this experimental technique is best utilized. It maintains the interest level on these longer songs and helps them to avoid feeling tedious, even through repeated parts.

There is plenty to like about Majesty and Decay, and this album will help Immolation to branch out and reach more black metal fans than they have in the past. Willingness to grow and experiment with songwriting is enjoyable to see from a veteran band like Immolation, especially when one considers how little diversity there is in the American death metal scene. If they can improve some of the finer points of their compositions and stick to shorter songs on their next album, expect Immolation to finally be recognized as one of the best death metal bands in the world.

Score: 7 out of 10

Track Listing

1. Intro
2. The Purge
3. A Token of Malice
4. Majesty and Decay
5. Divine Code
6. In Human Form
7. A Glorious Epoch
8. Interlude
9. A Thunderous Consequence
10. The Rapture of Ghosts
11. Power and Shame
12. The Comfort of Cowards

Album Personnel

Ross Dolan - Vocals, bass guitar
Robert Vigna - Lead guitar
Bill Taylor - Rhythm guitar
Steve Shalaty - Drums

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