Failures for Gods
Hammer of God
The battle between "good" and "evil" is as old as time, maybe even older. From the art world to the literature one and nearly everything circumnavigating the two, nowhere has this battle been the muse more prominently than the music world. And from its inception, the heavy metal sector of it has been downright obsessed with it. Sure, most ignoramuses are gonna say that all metal is naturally evil, but as of the '90s, its bands have begun to consciously take up sides in such a deadpan-serious manner that it's scary - and refreshingly stereotype-breaking.
Take, for example, Metal Blade's two sides, as of late, of the moral coin: Immolation's Failures for Gods and Mortification's Hammer of God ; just to clarify for the unperceptive, the former champions evil - the latter, good. But aside from their ideological platforms, both bands share similar histories, cropping up in death metal's pre-saturation days of the very late '80s, and have been brow-brutalizing those respective platforms ever since; thus, time to update for Y2K's as-yet-unfulfilled Armageddon.
Quietly improving their craft over the years, Immolation finally push the envelope on Failures for Gods . Every instrument finding a trajectory as chaotically predetermined as shattering glass, Immolation's lurch 'n' crunch death-grind is of a calculating calculus-bent ilk unmatched by their contemporaries, save for Today is the Day, who are on their own plane of dementia altogether. Such hyper-kinetics give the illusion that there's more on their minds than crushing Christ's throne, but maybe that's the point - or is it? Bassist Ross Dolan's sub-guttural growls aren't entirely unique, if not entirely indecipherable, giving rise to such penultimate lyrics as " as horizons overcast with menacing formations / those who will stand are committed no more / icon of icons, shattered and overtaken / this bastard, this beast, this Jesus must die. " If this verbiage seems the norm for death metal, it's really not: most bands of the genre solely dwell on death 'n' destruction, and the only related bands that deal with anything iconoclastic are the black-metal ones, who delve more into Satanic or pagan beliefs.
Which explains why Mortification have stuck out like a sore thumb from the beginning. Their days are getting better, so to speak, finding kindred spirits in Extol, Training for Utopia, and Warlord, among others. Hammer of God finds the band more streamlined than earlier efforts, more finesse than... hammering : Occasional faux-symphony keyboard touches and all, Mortification's drama-minded death-metal thrashes into Celtic Frost waters, circa Into the Pandemonium , with a tad of the grandiosity replaced with said band's earlier (c. '84/'85) vicious/viscous ignition. Other times, they barrel down the house with a punk-rocked simplicity, ala early Venom - ideologically, not that much of a stretch considering the latter's devil worship was merely a juvenile (hence "devil") put-on. Dolan's god-fearing counterpart, bassist Steve Rowe's snarl is a fairly intelligible one, making morally righteous lyrics as " as you smash the evil, grab hold the endless flame / holy spirit burning inside your soul unchained " hit more directly than Immolation's comparatively submerged exhortations.
But by another comparison, Mortification is a bit aesthetically stunted - "old school," if you will - next to Immolation's cerebrum-smothering workouts, thus potentially polarizing the "old guard" aspirants and the "new(er) radicals." And, of course, those who honor God and those who abhor him - and, extending even further, those who just sit back and laugh. Microcosms sure are funny, eh?
Metal Blade Records, 2828 Cochran St., Suite 302, Simi Valley, CA 93065-2793; http://www.metalblade.com
--Nathan T. Birk