For the most part, melodic death metal and I do not mix. It’s not that I dislike it, per se, but mostly, I just don’t care about it — it so rarely interests me that it’s actually noteworthy when it does.
Case in point: God Dethroned’s Passiondale (and its lesser, but still strong, follow-up in 2010’s Under The Sign Of The Iron Cross). That album — or those albums — were both highly commendable blends of vicious death metal with just enough melody to render them hooky, but only enough melody to allow them to remain feral and ferocious. Listeners more attuned to melodeath had heaped praise upon earlier God Dethroned efforts like The Toxic Touch or The Grand Grimoire, but all of the band’s albums prior to Passiondale had left me cold, until they embraced a World War I lyrical theme and upped the ante in terms of aggression.
And then, after one slam-dunk and a respectable follow-through, God Dethroned promptly split up.
And though normally blackened melodic death metal wouldn’t pique my interest at all, I must concede that, once again, God Dethroned has defied my norm.
Opening solidly with the title track, Illuminati’s modus operandi is established quickly: raging death metal augmented by subtle keyboards and clean background vocals, the latter two lending the whole affair that certain symphonic grandiosity. It’s the combination of those three factors — the death metal heft, the melodic hook, and the symphonic pomp — that pushes Illuminati both above and afield of the usual melodic death metal fare. With no bad track across its nine, it’s never anything less than ferocious, and it’s also uplifting, epic, triumphant.
Produced by Sattler and the band’s sound man, Ortrun Poolman, Illuminati sounds massive, the guitar tone appropriately stout, the mix shiny without being slick, the whole of it punchy and crisp. Drummer Michiel van der Plicht plays with a crackling energy, pushing the band into overdrive at times and laying back into a driving groove at others. The guitars of mainstay Henri Sattler and newcomer Dave Meester weave catchy lead hooks through tracks like “Book Of Lies,” and twist around one another through killer riffs in burners like “Spirit Of Beelzebub.” There are hooks for days in “Gabriel,” the thrashing “Eye Of Horus,” and the absolute burner of closing number “Blood Moon Eclipse,” which wraps up Illuminati perfectly on a positively vicious note.
After a bit of a stutter step with The World Ablaze, God Dethroned is moving both forward and backward at once, adding some old touches and some new tricks, and bringing themselves back to the same strength displayed on Passiondale. The result is that Illuminati is a damned fun and damned fine record, filled with hooks and hate, and certainly a welcome addition to my (very short) list of melodic blackened death metal knockouts.