Dependable [dih-pen-duh-buhl], adjective: Capable of being depended on; worthy of trust; reliable.
“Our mailman is very dependable, even when it rains, sleets, or snows.”
“This bar is quite dependable when it comes to barbecued iguana.”
“Erik Rutan is among the most dependable figures in death metal.”
The final example is obviously the one that applies here, but it bears repeating: Erik Rutan is among the most dependable figures in death metal, ever. This applies to his early, groundbreaking work with Ripping Corpse and his two stints with Morbid Angel, but he was never the top creative force in those bands. His true dependability comes through in his now 20-plus years serving as the main man behind Hate Eternal, a band that was obviously informed by past bandmates Shaune Kelley and Trey Azagthoth but has long since forged its own massive identity.
Upon Desolate Sands, somehow now their seventh album, continues everything fans have long loved about the band. It is technical and brutal, but never in ways that detract from the songs, with Rutan’s special brand of flexing and forceful riffage the main feature of a sound that remains as great and deserving of numerous adjectives as ever. (Twitchy, dense in both riffs and vocals, tense, punchy, infectiously dissonant, relentlessly blasty, freakishly heavy, brutal, surprisingly catchy, and so on and so forth.) And like all of their albums, it features a band content on excelling at their one perfect little corner of the death metal world; it’s unique, but only just so. Most important, however, is that dependability. In two decades, Hate Eternal has refused to write a single bad song, and Upon Desolate Sands absolutely keeps this trend intact. If anything, a tune like “Portal of Myriad,” with its smartass legato leads and neckwrecking hooks, further proves that Rutan and company only know how to strike gold within their formula.
That’s not to say that the album is devoid of development, just that said development will only be apparent to the most attentive of fans. Notable is how the band has gained the ever-so-slightest sense of dynamics over the years, mostly through an increased emphasis on melody. For example, the stunning coda of “All Hope Destroyed” features no fewer than three intertwining leads, with a killer solo topping it all in gorgeous fashion, while the album’s outro ends things not with a violent bang, but with relative introspection. The band also spends less time in full speed mode than in their early days, with the more bottom-feeding riffs in opener “The Violent Fury” not just providing contrast to the passages of blasting, but giving them extra focus. The title track, meanwhile, never speeds up, instead stretching out its mood through both solos and a fair amount of “epic” tremolo riffs. With a change of production it wouldn’t be too far off from later Immolation, straight down to the tom-happy drum performance of the beastly Hannes Grossmann (Obscura, Alkaloid, about 20 others).
These are obviously very slight adjustments to a well-honed formula for the band, and they’re really only a continuation of the very slight adjustments heard on recent albums, so if one had to mention the most minor of minor caveats, it’s that Upon Desolate Sands doesn’t exactly raise the bar for Hate Eternal or death metal as a whole. But considering the average bar of the former is so much higher than the average bar for most of the latter, this still remains pretty damn required listening for fans of all things crushing and pummeling, and established fans will only find more to take in with devilish glee.
With every great new Hate Eternal record, Erik Rutan proves more and more that he isn’t just a death metal stalwart, but one of the genre’s most dependable and towering figures. And if you don’t agree, go ahead and tell him that to his face.