Imprecation return six years after their great release Satanae Tenebris Infinita with Damnatio ad Bestias which refers to a Roman game that consisted of allowing beasts to kill various criminals. Here it possibly refers to the various Christian martyrs that were killed this way and possibly a reference to the Morbid Angel song “The Lion’s Den” which deals with the exact same topic. Here the band are aware of the success of their previous record and attempt to replicate but with a slightly modern touch that takes away from the immersion yet remains an enjoyable listen that pushes certain previous ideas to their limit.
The lineup remains unchanged save for Jeff Tandy joining in on bass and the band is immediately recognizable as the palette of techniques used is virtually identical. Weirdly enough the band opts for a much more digital recording with the guitars piercing through better and allowing each note to be easily heard but at the cost of ferocity. The drums and vocals retain a lot of their grit but overall this record feels a bit too compressed and the lack of dynamics in sound does make this record a bit more tiring than it needs to be.
The use of keyboards is much more sparse than usual as they mainly appear to just push the climax during the end of each song. The keyboards are always used to strong effect by playing the underlying chord progression to help make sense of what is going musically. Imprecation have always excelled with keyboards and it is a shame that they don’t use them as often. Riffs are very streamlined in the style of Morbid Angel’s Covenant playing short recursive phrases that are tremolo picked. When reusing the recursive riffs the guitarists will generally an other motif to the end of it to create progression and to allow continuity.
In order to gel certain riffs together, the band resort to more modern start and stop riffs that will form the base layer for a melody to come on top or to lead to another tremolo picked that doesn’t quite fit with the preceding riff. From these chugging riffs the band may abruptly accelerate into a solo as seen on “Ageless Ones of None” that completely kills the continuity of the song. “Baptized in Satan’s Blood” shows the best use of the chugging riffs as it uses them to build anticipation to the main melodies of the composition and especially the final climax where the long black metal melody is allowed to develop in all of its darkened glory. Though the syncopated riffs aren’t terrible as they do present melodic character and not the standard one note riff more commonly used, they cut the flow of the song and simplify the arrangements as the listener can easily guess where each song will go next.
Damnatio ad Bestias unlike its predecessors struggles with the management of all its tempo changes, wanting to break away from their sombre mid-paced death metal but not knowing how to. The breaks to the faster tremolo melodies where the notes are played twice instead of four or eight times end up sounding random as the band struggles to make sense of them in their labyrinthine arrangements. Often they cover them with Slayer-like bursts of noise from the lead guitar which help at first but eventually sounds boring and overdone.
The strength of the band is the way they use layers on top of a single melody like on the song “The Shepherd and the Flock” where a simple chromatic melody is supplemented with one guitar playing a more developed version of the melody on top of it and the keyboard holding the fort with the bass by breaking down the melody into single notes. The band do this multiple times throughout the album and use it create a very tense and oppressive atmosphere through these stacks of ideas. Though after they appear the band then transition to a grand climax or continue towards a chilling conclusion. There is a great sense of musicality during these moments as none of these layers are harmonized in the traditional sense and rely on the composer’s ears to find the right intervals necessary to make superposed melodies function as one.
Despite the almost childish anti-Christian lyrics that sound like leftovers from mid-period Deicide, Imprecation show that they are still ahead of the mass in Death metal and that they too want to march forwards towards new territories. On one hand they have the smooth textures of later death metal with more recent rhythmic tricks and on the other hand there is a push towards reconciling the layered approach of Black metal with the death metal riff maze. While the former shows a band running out of ideas, the latter shows a new perspective on old tricks putting this record in a tricky place. Its digestible nature makes this a suitable step for those familiar with recent death metal but who wish to take their first steps into the darkest corners of the genre. For everyone else a decent listen for those wanting more Imprecation before returning to their better works.