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Immolation - Harnessing Ruin
Review: Any scholar wishing to understand how metal is put together will benefit from study of this album, because it is simultaneously the best work [Immolation has done and their nadir of stylistic, ideological and thematic integrity. As musicians, they have matured upward from the plateau found on their second album, and on this, the differences are subtle: a fine understanding of the emotions wrought from different types of melody, a detailed understanding of pace in the context of their traditional tugging and rebounding rhythm, a clear-sighted sequence of introduction of ideas.
Stylistically, they have descended: what separates Harnessing Ruin from other Immolation work is a tendency to make MTV-video-friendly songs that are chorus heavy and conclude evenly on a fade-out or other helpful device for terminating imagery; although their death metal technique remains immaculate when used, it is interrupted by bouncy nu-metal style drumming and horrid "obvious" songwriting devices, including alternation between whispering and screaming, distorted and acoustic guitars, thunderous bounce and smugly seamless fluid rhythms. Do we sense a presence of nu-metal, emocore and mainstream album-oriented rock? Yes, my precious. Will this kill the album for most metalheads, and put Immolation in dangerous territory as far as continuing as an underground metal band? True, true. Is the album still excellent? There's an argument to be made for it.
Some tracks sound hasty and could be eliminated, leaving an EP that especially if re-constructed in Immolation's trademark death metal technique would be mindblowing, but the songwriting -- the music, the flow of ideas, the use of musical language -- is excellent, even if style fails. In that there's an important lesson, but equally important is knowing that metal, like classical, is not a "jam" genre: one must find a clear concept for each album and each song and express it, more like sonic poetry and opera than musical noodling. Hard-driving anti-Christianity and the method of compositing complex riffs found on Here in After took Immolation only so far. This is a band in need of artistic direction, but at the top of their musical game.
Most metalheads will probably find this album unsatisfying, but this reviewer is fond of it for despite its brutal failings, it provides a disjointed but imagically lucid view of the metal artform. This band needs a new aesthetic, one that hybridizes death metal with their Voivodian dissonant and inverted harmonies; they need a larger concept than simply "we detest Christ," perhaps even Unabomber-style taking on modern society as a creation of Christian ethics; they need a new goal, and whether it is mainstream or underground is irrelevant as long as the musical quality remains. Most tantalizingly, this album leads us to wonder what will happen when the next Immolation album, solidified with a clearer path, is created with the same balance of experience and freshness toward life that clarifies this work.