Immolation ‒ Acts Of God Review

[Cover artwork by Eliran Kantor]

Most Immolation fans would agree that their genre defining classics are behind them, and that’s okay! This is a band whose floor includes very good records that can’t possibly hurt their status as a top five death metal band and a ceiling made up of world burners like Dawn of Possession and Close to a World Below. The 20-year (!!!) period since 2002’s Unholy Cult ‒ arguably their last classic record ‒ has seen them release a number of quite good to nearly great records that often had varying puzzling production choices despite all being generally under the watchful eye of Paul Orofino. But even the maximum clickiness on Kingdoms of Conspiracy couldn’t derail the tunes, a benefit of the singular style and masterful execution of Messrs. Dolan, Vigna, and company.

Each new Immolation album brings with it an urge to say “best since…” because each new Immolation album brings a good amount of fervor and enthusiasm from their many fans. Atonement certainly created such enthusiasm around LR HQ, and not without reason, as it’s very nice, but to my ears still felt like just another Good Late Career Immolation Album. So, in the interest of contradicting myself, let’s very quickly get to a point about album number 11, Acts of God:

Release date: February 18, 2022. Label: Nuclear Blast.
This record feels like the best Immolation album since Unholy Cult, but has few to zero caveats one can raise against that claim compared to other recent contenders. Immolation isn’t merely firing on most cylinders here, but nailing everything (and more) that can possibly be expected of a death metal band well past its 30th birthday. Is Acts of God destined to become another Immolation classic? Don’t be silly. The band’s legacy and footprint was solidified ages ago, and a great late career entry can never mean what the groundbreaking albums meant.

But can it still be a hugely entertaining and way killer record? Indubitably. And this is key, because Acts of God is a hugely entertaining and way killer record. The first thing you’ll notice is that the production is much more natural and clean compared to the trigger-fest of some recent albums. Steve Shalaty’s drums sound like, well, drums, and the guitars are beefy and hefty without overloading the gain. There’s a clarity here that sacrifices zero heft but lets every element shine through. Even Ross Dolan’s immortal growl sounds like it’s in the same room.

Orofino and the band returning to more natural tones is a big reason for the record’s success, but as Failures for Gods proved, great Immolation tunes can overcome odd studio choices. Thankfully, Acts of God has both great Immolation tunes and smart studio choices. It manages to be the longest album of their career (15 tracks across just over 52 minutes) but feels shorter and more efficient than records like Shadows in the Light or Atonement due to the tightness of the tunes.

That efficiency is one of the album’s keys. Eight of these songs are under four minutes in length (not counting the intro or interlude) and only one passes five, with most tunes covering a pretty wide area of ground. After a brief intro ‒ entitled “Abandoned,” because Immolation does not waver from their intentions ‒ “An Act of God” kicks things off in roaring fashion while providing plenty of blasting and churning, Dolan’s ageless growls, a killer mid-song shift into something both oddly chuggy and hooky, and one of the album’s many great solos. The solos are some of the biggest wins of the record, and among the biggest reasons Acts of God feels so immediate and economical. From the slightly prog-tech-backed lead in “Overtures of the Wicked” to the way the solo in “The Age of No Light” seems to yank the tune back into a frenzy, nearly every tune on the album is enhanced by Vigna’s ability to tell a story using his uniquely manic but still melodic style as a lead guitarist.

At times it seems like these songs are designed around getting to the solo, but that might just be a reflection of how well Immolation shapes a song climax around a lead, not to mention the fire behind these sessions. As a band they seem capable of growing out of any single element into something larger until it becomes some preposterously intense vortex of blasts, dissonant riffs, and death growls. “Incineration Procession,” for example, begins with the most basic of riffs, but because of the smart and seemingly natural (almost obvious) ways the band members layer on their individual parts, the arrival at the song’s ferocious peak feels earned.

Immolation’s ability to be clinically tight but almost seem like they’re just jamming within their little zone is one of several apparent contradictions that both define their sound and make them one of the all-time greats. They also use a combination of dissonance, needle-sharp hooks, and abrasive drumming but still often keep things infectious or even downright fun. “Noose of Thorns” is bookended by slower, brooding material, but picks up speed into blackened riffage and some seriously catchy, neck-snapping hooks; “Derelict of Spirit,” one of the album’s top highlights, holds onto its tension until the chorus unloads in a moment of melody and conviction; and the verses of “Broken Prey” seem to bulldoze over themselves before the tune hits a truly filthy mid-tempo section of sassy pinched notes, like being poked by the grooviest needles imaginable.

That filthy-groovy passage in “Broken Prey” also features Dolan bellowing out lines like “Scavengers in the sea of human wreckage,” which brings us to our last apparent contradiction. Immolation eternally tackles a target as worn out as organized religion without their seriousness or intelligence ever coming into question, and that’s largely due to Dolan’s capabilities as a vocalist (plus lyrics far better than those by, say, Glen Benton). Few other death growlers do as much with so little. He doesn’t have the growl/scream combination of Corpsegrinder or go to a brutal death level of gutturals, for example, instead staying largely within a limited range and finding success through a mastery of vocal cadence and pure, unmatched determination. A friend and I have a running joke that Dolan hates religion so much that it makes him weep, and that isn’t an impression we formed from reading his lyrics, but by the sheer emotion he communicates with such a seemingly simple approach.

You don’t become a death metal institution well past your 30th year without your core members being among the best, and this record is as great a showcase for Dolan and Vigna as Immolation has released in many a year. Even the pickiest of nitpickers that feel Acts of God is a mite long for an Immolation album would have a hard time finding a filler track to cut. They’re all packed to the rafters with great, purposeful vocals, a container shipload of abrasively catchy riffs, and nutty drumming ranging from blasts to grooving. Immolation is one of just a few bands that essentially created their own branch of death metal, and their unique sound has been endlessly influential over the decades but never quite duplicated. Acts of God is the latest reason why their imitators will never catch up. All hail the kings.

Posted by Zach Duvall

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; Obnoxious overuser of baseball metaphors.

  1. A new Immolation record! I mark the stages of my life by Immolation records. So glad i got to see them live, if just once. These embedded songs are killer. I loved the last album, Atonement (the lyrics were amazing), and did not notice the production being an issue. But damn these embedded songs on the new album do sound nice, production wise. Can’t wait to get this new one.

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