(Who could have predicted that our first post of 2014 would be… DGR’s review of Impending Doom’s latest album?)
It feels weird for this to be my first review of 2014, but this is one of those discs that has been gnawing at me to be reviewed since it hit, considering how much I’ve listened to it since it came out in early November. Covering -core bands like this one is not the usual fare for NCS. We’ve long made a big deal about how if we don’t enjoy an album, then we’re probably not going to write about it, and with the -core genres currently suffering from a transformation into one homogenous mass of breakdowns, verb-the-noun names, and splatter font, it becomes more and more difficult to get around even to the groups that you would consider the stalwarts and veterans of the genre. That’s especially true in the case of deathcore, where it has long seemed that if you found roughly three bands to follow, then you really didn’t need to listen to anyone else; you would get everything that was happening in that scene through your chosen trinity.
It makes things difficult, because you have groups like Impending Doom in that mix, who, religious quibbles aside, feel like a band’s band. They’re known for always being busy and, like clockwork, pounding out new discs filled with their pared-down-to-its-very-core-elements brand of deathcore. They’re one of those bands that I’ve felt have always improved their sound with every disc. Every cycle has brought a new awareness of differing styles and whole new pools of riffs, reinforcing what makes the formula of that band so solid. Over time the breakdowns have become much thicker, the lyrics more violent, and the songs more groove-oriented.
Touching base with Impending Doom every time they have a new release has felt like touching base with (and taking the pulse of) the current deathcore scene — because they’re a stubborn bunch who aren’t going to shift styles. They know what their fans want and they play to them first. The band write what they know and they infuse newer ideas as they appear within their own scene. They’re not a band completely bereft of innovation, as they’ve tried a couple of different things on discs like There Will Be Violence and Baptized In Filth, but Impending Doom aren’t going to be walking around with the “progressive” prefix attached to their genre codifier.
You come to this band because they are a rock, a fixed point in an ever-flowing stream of music. You come to an Impending Doom disc because it is going to sound like goddamned Impending Doom — maybe through a slightly different lens, but if you strip away the occasional new thing, you’re still going to have that group standing there. That said, it is understandable that people may have brushed over these guys before, but as was true with Baptized In Filth, the group’s late 2013 release Death Will Reign is an excellent a jumping-on point.
If Impending Doom were to be accused of having a trend, writing a sharp-as-hell opening track has to be one of them. Going as far back as the group’s earliest works, they have had the ability to create a hefty groove capable of locking you in place for at least two or three songs, running off of the strength of the first track alone. The best example of that for a long time was “Murderer” from Baptized In Filth. That song has to be one of the most instantaneously headbangable things out there to date; something about the way the groove bent in that track at the end of each chugged-out riff made you want to move. It’s awesome that on Death Will Reign, they’ve pulled it off again with “Ravenous Disease”.
Even better, you’re not just riding on the strength of the first track any more until songs three or four provide enough rejuvenation to get you through the balance of the disc, because on this new album the guys have slammed six really strong songs right up front — each with its own signature little flair and change, so that they don’t blur into each other and become a mess of chugging groove-riffs.
It feels great to say that you’re not really at risk of getting lost in the songs at any point and wondering where you’re at in the disc, because the band shift things around enough across the whole CD to make Death Will Reign an interesting listen all the way through — as long as you understand and accept that it’s going to be covered in Cro-magnon-man-banging-on-mastodon-skulls-worthy breakdowns.
The title song has a hell of a vocal performance in it, too — Brook Reeves just roars through the whole song, and that’s complemented by the high vocal break that happens in the middle of the track, provided by Greg Wilburn of The Devastated (given that Impending Doom’s current guitarists are in that band as well, it isn’t too far a throw to see why he would pop up here). Holy crap, does that part sound absolutely vicious, especially when they get to do the tried-and-true high-and-low vocal range at the same time to close out the back half of the song.
As mentioned earlier, the group have had a bit of a line-up shift, with guitarist Eric Correa joining the band, as well as long-time guitarist Manny Contreras finding his way back into the fold after a two-year break. While a lot of bands would be in flux as a result of shifting around their guitarists, Impending Doom deal with it really well. Honestly, it feels like the changes have breathed a bit of fresh air and a sense of experimentation into the band that hadn’t be too present before-hand.
Not to lay all the song writing at their feet, but the current guitar duo pull off some really good stuff throughout Death Will Reign, such as the lead melody section of “My Own Maker”. I will admit that even after the band had Ryan Clarke of Demon Hunter pop up in a song on a previous disc, I wasn’t expecting a melody this strong to open the song and then become its main motif for the rest of the track. Plus, it includes a real stuttering, insectoid, angular riff in the first verse parts of the song that is super-cool — like listening to a spider crawl its way up the fretboard of the guitar while the guys play on top of it. “My Own Maker” is a really big highlight of Death Will Reign, alongside its title track.
All that aside, the rest of the band certainly carry their own weight and complete the giant side of red beef that is Impending Doom, with the group’s rhythm section, consisting of longtime bassist David Sittig and drummer Brandon Trahan, just laying waste to everything they come across, and with Brook sounding as violent as ever.
It’s clear the band were aiming to kick out some the heaviest stuff they had done in a while with Death Will Reign, burying it all in a layer of electronic distortion at certain points (like the bridge section of vocals in “My Blood”) and keeping the guitars as low as they could get them without the strings just falling off. Part of this goes back to the sense that the band are aware of the risk that they can blur their songs together somewhat, so on Death Will Reign they really aimed to make each one as distinct as possible — once you get past all of the breakdowns.
But let’s be real – this is Impending Doom. If you haven’t gotten into the breakdowns by now, then you probably shouldn’t be listening to this disc, because they aren’t going to change that part of their foundation. The only real thing you could throw at them is an over-reliance on the sections where the whole band are one solid wall of blast beats and galloping fast guitars with Brook sailing over the top of it with one solid scream. Every other song on Death Will Reign has a moment like that, and at first they’re really great, but they do get a little long in the tooth as you’re on the downswing of the disc. However, that seems like a really good problem to have in comparison to just having everything become a completely unrecognizable mass of -core tropes with no passion behind it.
I don’t want it to seem that I’m engaging in a bit of revisionist history when it comes to my time with the band. Anyone can find that I had a relatively ambivalent reaction to the group’s previous release, Baptized In Filth. I liked a good chunk of songs, and others left me cold, but Death Will Reign is a completely different experience. I still believe the band get better with every release. I said so the last time I reviewed them and I believe so now. Death Will Reign is a good snapshot of everything happening in the deathcore scene at the moment — fused together and performed by one of its long-time veteran bands. They betray their own creativity at points in favor of going into another fucking massive breakdown, but the times when they do different things from the standard Impending Doom formula are some of the highlights of this disc.
Yes, it fills that niche of the chug-heavy, brain-dead core approach, but sometimes when it comes to music you just need to be stupid. Death Will Reign has been one of those discs for me this year. It nails every checkpoint you’d expect from a band of this type and then on top of it manages to insert enough interesting stuff that it doesn’t become just the occasional “I feel like wearing a hoody and acting like I listen to this stuff in the gym” sort of listen. I have consistently gone back to it multiple times because there is always one thing that seems to catch my interest and keep me listening.
Death Will Reign is great as a quick-hit disc as well, for the moments when you do feel like dumbing it down music-wise for ten or fifteen minutes and just being mad at stuff. While I am still not an unabashed fan of the band yet, this disc is strong enough that I will definitely be looking into what sort of madness these Riverside, California gentlemen get up to next.