Originally written by Ian Duncan-Brown.
Immolation’s first album has recently been reissued. Why should you care? Some fans call it the band’s best ever because it represents Immolation in their purest, most brutal form. That’s a compelling argument, even if I would personally assign the honor to Here in After or Close to a World Below. Whether you prefer the style present here or the jarring, off-kilter approach that the band would later favor, it is obvious that this is no test run. When listening to Dawn of Possession, one does not hear a fledgling band still honing their sound. While critics and fans like to talk about the “hints of brilliance” that they detect on any given band’s early, sub-par material, there are no hints of brilliance here–this is brilliance, through and through. Compared to the other death metal that was coming out in 1991, I can only imagine how intense this must have seemed. There were already other bands in the scene that were more technical (Atheist, Pestilence) or more brutal (Impetigo), but one would probably have difficulty naming any pre-Dawn of Possession album that married the two criteria so flawlessly. One of the best ever. Read on…
I hardly need to discuss the songwriting on this disc – all of these tracks have stood the test of time and proved their brilliance and innovation. Nevertheless, I will. These songs are built around stunning collections of riffs that are grinding, harsh, and, to be honest, ugly. Rarely, if ever, will one hear Immolation playing in a major key. Shrieking pinch harmonics and frequent tempo changes are hallmarks of the band’s sound. In a word, discordant; in two, hideously beautiful. No band is more adept at meshing all instruments into a single blasphemous racket, few are more concise or more precise. In a genre rife with heavier-than-thou one upmanship, it’s amazing how well this release holds its own against the newcomers. I’m not calling out any bands in particular, but the material that a lot of groups release seems to suggest that cogent songwriting and brutality are mutually exclusive – Dawn of Possession serves as a model that few artists are capable of following.
A great concept is nothing without masterful execution. On Dawn of Possession, the former is perfectly supported by the latter. While Immolation had not yet reached the heights of technicality present on later albums, the musicianship on this disc is impressive – not just in comparison to the other albums that were coming out at the time, but also when weighed against contemporary death metal. It was on this release that Ross Dolan proved himself one of the best vocalists in the genre, and though it is true that he made many advancements as a lyricist following this release, it is also true that he was already a great frontman on Dawn of Possession. The production fits the release perfectly – raw enough to convey the band’s power, but clean enough to highlight the skilled playing.
It always gets to me when I see statements like “you’re not a fan of death metal if you don’t own this album” and the like. That said, Immolation is the best death metal band. I’m not saying that you’re not a fan of death metal if you don’t have their albums in your collection – far from it. I am, however, stating my belief that Immolation is the absolute embodiment of everything that makes the scene good. Incredibly challenging musically and lyrically and extremely complex technically and structurally, Immolation have always done it better than anyone else out there. I count six perfect full lengths in a row – how many other DM bands have that statistic to their credit? Moreover, how many DM bands have six perfect albums that each exhibit progression and artistic growth, always elaborating and improving upon their style? How many of the above managed to do so without losing touch with their roots? Immolation put most death metal bands to shame, and my only caveat is that this is not even their best album.