The element that Immolation evoke is not fire, but earth. Among death metal bands, their ruggedness is unique. Drums are blunt, guitars carve trenches, and growls proclaim doom. In contrast to death metal’s modern practitioners, who are clinically precise, and its retro revivalists, who are resolutely ham-fisted, Immolation have muscles and flex them. Their attack, though, is gloriously imperfect. Tempos fluctuate organically, and perfect synchronicity is rare. Immolation move mountains, but one boulder at a time.
Appropriately, Majesty and Decay (Nuclear Blast, 2010) is about the human destruction of Earth. The discussion isn’t environmental or political, but behavioral. Unlike the upfront blasphemy of previous records, religion is more a symptom than a cause. The causes here are basic, like hate, greed, and arrogance: “We liken ourselves to gods / Leaving lifeless regions of ruin.” This approach is more mature than death metal’s typical “fuck your god” posturing, and the lyrics, while not novel in scope, are sobering. Niggling over climate change is pointless when humans salt the earth in every other way. Immolation know this, painting with big, bleak strokes.
Those strokes haven’t been this big in a while. After their classic early outings, their production and material have been up and down. Immolation don’t make bad albums, but on their last few records, some tracks have clearly been stronger than others. That problem is gone now. Every track on Majesty and Decay has those vaunted Bob Vigna riffs, where he puts pick to string and evokes an entire string section sawing through pre-war symphonies. Drummer Steve Shalaty has never played better, with a wicked array of off-kilter, tumbling beats. The sound is bruised and bloody, but unbowed. In the human timeline of continual debasement, it is a flash of dignity.