If we’re being honest, Immolation’s days as a ground-breaking death metal band are long past. The band has not really pushed the envelope of death metal or even its own sound in over a decade. With its barely harnessed squalls of dissonance, 2000’s Close to a World Below remains the band’s creative high water mark. Though dissonance and multi-layered compositions remain hallmarks of its sound, with subsequent releases Immolation has retreated from Close to a World Below’s sonic extremity and settled into a stylistic groove. It could be said that Immolation has become predictable, but I think the more apt term is dependable. Even when it was arguably in a slump with the albums Harnessing Ruin and Shadows in the Light, Immolation still made very good death metal. With releases such as Unholy Cult and Majesty and Decay, the band has proven itself still capable of excellence. The group’s latest effort Kingdom of Conspiracy is further proof of such capability.
While Immolation has experimented with a more stripped-down sound over the past decade, Kingdom of Conspiracy is perhaps the most straightforward record the band has done since the nineties. Of course, straightforward by Immolation’s standards is not very straightforward at all, and it would be misleading to say that Kingdom of Conspiracy sounds like anything but an Immolation record. Nonetheless, Robert Vigna seems to have pared back the layers of his guitar orchestrations, letting the thick heavy riffing that is normally an undercurrent in Immolation’s music rise to the surface. The result is an album that sacrifices some of the band’s epic feel, for a more direct, in-your-face ferocity.
A consequence of Kingdom of Conspiracy’s less elaborate arrangements is that individual riffs are rendered more distinct and memorable. A surprising number of these riffs are of the “regular-assed” death metal variety, built from stock techniques such as low-end tremolo picking and muted power chords. In a way, this harkens back to Dawn of Possession, when Immolation was in the process of creating its unique sound, while simultaneously beating many of its peers at their own game.
The opening title track sets the tone of the album perfectly, alternating between traditional death metal riffs and more twisted Immolation-styled fare, as well as moving through a surprising number of tempo changes in under four minutes. Of particular note is the stuttering jack-hammer riff at 0:49, which hits so hard you can feel it in your guts. Its appearance is unfortunately brief, but a brutal stomp-and-squeal toward the end of the track is almost as good. “Keep the Silence” is a study in Immolation‘s trademarked sullen trudge, nicely balanced with a high-velocity mid-section. “God Complex” is the closest Immolation has come to a high-speed ripper in a while. Shalaty’s drumming is relentless, and Vigna matches it with some frenetic riffing of his own, and enough right-hand speed to hint at thrash. The mid-paced juggernaut, “The Great Sleep”, is the closest the band comes to an epic on Kingdom of Conspiracy, but at 5:22 it is still quite concise.
The only real knock on this album is one that rings true for most of the band’s work: Immolation is stiff as hell. The band grooves, but never swings. This stifling rigidity sucks some of the exhilaration out of the albums up-tempo moments, because it all sounds too easy, too perfect. It does not help that Ross Dolan exhibits almost no variation in vocal tone or cadence, negating a potential source of dynamics. That’s life in the digital age, however, and I do not expect it to change any time soon.
In all, Kingdom of Conspiracy is another top shelf effort from one of the most unique voices in American death metal. The band might not be leading the charge anymore, but Immolation is still well ahead of the pack.