(Andy Synn reviews the new album by Italy’s Hour of Penance.)
Allow me get this out of the way right now: Regicide is about as definitively an Hour Of Penance album as you could ask for. Everything’s present and correct and firing on all cylinders – the uber-intense death riffs, the overwhelming, over-produced drum work, the raging vocal dissent – it’s all there and all utterly destructive. Whether that appeals to you will depend entirely on how much you’ve loved the band’s previous works, particularly Paradogma and Sedition.
Because let’s face it, the Italian extremists definitely subscribe to the philosophy of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Their sixth album packs in the same wealth of punishing riffage, bloody hooks, and concentrated venom that’s been their stock in trade for years now, rejecting any pressure to change or develop beyond their obsession with sheer sonic evisceration.
The first couple of tracks pretty much fly by in a blur of blast beats and brutality, all pedal-to-the-metal speed and hellish aggression — not that that’s a bad thing, as it immediately sets the adrenaline spiking and the mind into fight-or-flight mode. However, much like its predecessor album, it’s not until a few songs in that the band seem comfortable enough to relax their stranglehold on the accelerator a little, allowing the material more room to breathe and develop a clearer sense of identity.
That’s not a criticism of Sedition by the way, which was structured very similarly… it’s just an acknowledgement that the band’s modus operandi is to draw you in with maximum brutality, before daring to show the rest of their hand. Much like Polish pugilists Hate, the Italian quartet have constructed an identity out of unrepentant extremity, yet ironically it’s when they bring in some touches of variety that they’re at their most successful and most interesting.
It’s not that they suddenly develop any particularly progressive tendencies either, but songs like “Resurgence of the Empire” and “Sealed Into Ecstasy” benefit from an increased sense of atmosphere and malevolent character. Both remain inescapably violent and crushingly heavy, but breathe more easily and possess a more developed sense of identity than their more purely velocity-obsessed brothers.
From the suppurating, gut-wound rumble of “Redeemer of Atrocity”, to the pneumatic death-march of the album’s title track and the blackened menace of “The Sun Worship”, the very best tracks on Regicide do their best to burrow their way into your brain, penetrating and perforating with an enviable array of barbed riffs and defiling melodies, fuelled by an unquenchable fire of pure godless fury.
While there are no major changes or surprises in store here – no shocking digressions or sudden changes in style (and why would there be?) – the band have clearly taken some subtle steps to improve and refine their familiar sound beyond the simple formula of blast and burn.
Though their ultimate agenda remains zealously focussed on pure intensity (simultaneously their greatest strength yet biggest potential weakness), the use of melody is bleaker and more prominent, without softening or compromising the album’s visceral bludgeon, while the hooks – particularly in the riff department – are keener than ever.
They say that familiarity breeds contempt, and for a band like Hour of Penance, who dwell almost exclusively at the redline of sonic extremity, that’s always a danger. After all, once you’ve achieved terminal velocity, where do you go from there?
The fact that Regicide, for all its sadistic speed and heretical heaviness, remains a compelling listen, closely related yet always distinguishable from its brothers, is down to the subtle refinements and embellishments that the band have made to their familiar formula, tiny tweaks designed to increase its lethal virulence without compromising the ferocious core of their identity.
Infamous for their massive sound and unapologetic fascination with bigger-faster-louder, it’s actually the small changes that have the biggest impact here, and those small changes, those little adaptations and adjustments, may just be responsible for the band’s finest hour.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Regicide will be released on May 13 by Prosthetic Records and can be ordered here. In June the band will be touring the US with Septicflesh, Fleshgod Apocalypse, and Necronomicon. We’ll be posting the schedule for that as soon as it becomes available. Here are the first two songs that have debuted from the new album: