originally written by Chris McDonald
If you’re one of those listeners who commands progression with each successive album a band puts out, Immolation’s last couple may have disappointed you, as they’ve seen the long-running New York collective primarily sticking to their guns and refining their established style rather than venturing into any unheard-of waters. Whichever side of the fence you stand on, I find it hard to argue that Ross Dolan and co. have carved out one of the most distinctive niche sounds in extreme metal’s history over the course of their eight full-length albums. Immolation’s complex, disjointed riffing style and dark, depraved atmosphere have been firmly cemented in the annals of death metal lore, and while they may have tapered off some of the experimentation on recent albums, their continued force and relevance in the scene is still something to be marveled at.
On that note, Majesty And Decay is much in the vein of Harnessing Ruin and Shadows in the Light, striking a satisfying middle ground between the raw depravity of the early albums and the more epic lean of the band’s mid-period works. The main difference maker this time is the production, which is easily the best treatment the band has had since Unholy Cult. Drums are finally rendered with some real clarity and Ross Dolan’s bass comes through with the guitars nicely. When you hear stuff like the crushing groove that opens “In Human Form” or the leering mid-section of “Power and Shame,” you really appreciate what a good balanced mix can do for Immolation’s sound. But a good mix is moot if the songs don’t cut the mustard. Fortunately, on Majesty And Decay, they do… for the most part.
Most of the material here is about on par with Shadows InThe Light; some lukewarm moments, some absolutely brilliant moments, and mostly rock-solid material in between. Despite the fact that Robert Vigna has been mixing in more straightforward riffs in his writing in recent years, they’re still delivered with that patented Immolation atmosphere purely by the way these guys gel with each other instrumentally. “The Purge” opens with feverish blasting before leading into a sludgy groove and spooky clean guitar section, while “A Glorious Epoch” manages to conjure a surprisingly melancholy atmosphere with its stirring tremolo melodies. Elsewhere, the fantastic “In Human Form” and “The Rapture of the Gods” deliver a healthy serving of punishing groove complemented by spidery guitar harmonics and, in the latter song’s case, a slow and melodic conclusion. Vigna’s soloing style is still a defining element of the band’s sound, and thankfully he stretches his writing beyond some of the melody-recycling he employed on Shadows. And these guys still know how to write one hell of an album closer, as the superb “The Comfort of Cowards” proves (how on Earth they write guitar harmonies like that is utterly beyond me).
I have to say though, that while Majesty And Decay makes a huge first or second impression, in truth there’s next to nothing here that can’t be heard in a different form on the band’s previous albums. And once you get over the initial euphoric excitement that accompanies any new release by a band like Immolation, things can feel a little deflated in places. While there’s still a healthy dose of the band’s bizarre shifting rhythms and unsettling harmonies, the increased reliance on more straightforward blastbeats and digestible grooves takes off some of that complex and meticulous edge that made albums like Close To A World Below so classic. The opening riff to “Divine Code” is stock as hell, and moments like the title track’s main melody and the ending of “A Token of Malice” seem flat by this band’s standards. Now I’m definitely referring more to individual passages than whole songs, but a few of these riffs just feel lazy coming from a band like Immolation, which is disappointing.
But even if this band’s most world-shattering works may be behind them, Immolation are always going to stand out from the pack as long as they continue to make records, and that’s a huge achievement in itself. While not on par with their classics, Majesty And Decay is certainly another worthy entry in a discography that rivals any band in the death metal genre, and remains an enjoyable and absorbing album overall in spite of some sub-par moments.