We present the full streaming premiere of His Divine Shadow, the new album by San Diego’s Condemned, just a couple of days before its March 10th release by Unique Leader Records.
One might think that Condemned need no introduction, at least to fans of more technically extravagant forms of brutal death metal. They developed a significant following on the strength of their first two albums, Desecrate the Vile (2007) and Realms of the Ungodly (2011). But in addition to the passage of six years since that last release, there are now many new faces in the band.
In fact, only guitarist Steve Crow remains from the group that released those first two records. Vocalist Angel Ochoa has been replaced by Sam Townsley, although he is not a completely new face, having appeared as a guest vocalist on Desecrate The Vile. The drum kit is now under the control of Tyson Jupin (Vile), while the bass is manned by Ryan Reidy.
What has this new collective wrought under the banner of Condemned?
Well, they certainly haven’t thrown the formula over the side and started over. The new album is more of a fine-tuning, but at least to these ears it represents forward movement from the last album, and the result is their strongest release yet.
Most people will probably notice a change in the production quality and the mix. In a nutshell, the sound is massively heavy, the guitars with a deeper and more corrosive tone and the mix more balanced, allowing the enormity of the bass to increase the low-end weight and reducing the sometimes domineering presence of the snare drum — though without at all diminishing the impact of Tyson Jupin’s razor-sharp performance.
Sam Townsley’s vocals are different as well, more like a hoarse, cavernous roar than the gurgling sewage of Ochoa’s gutturals, but Townsley is nonetheless a monster.
What hasn’t changed dramatically since the last album — but has only become more catastrophically destructive — is Condemned’s mix of riffs and technically impressive fretwork. The songs combine brutish, pile-driving hammer blows, berserker swarming, and insectile skittering, and the assault is nearly relentless, and completely electrifying, from song one through song ten.
Speaking of insectile skittering, the new album on a conceptual level is described as “a vast, horrific tale of a darkened, parallel universe inhabited by an insect humanoid civilization that lives dominated and enslaved by a dark mysterious ruler whom they call ‘His Divine Shadow.'” That concept is reflected in the cover art of Pär Olofsson (Deeds Of Flesh, Cult Of Luna, Immortal, Immolation, etc.), as well as in the music.
The album is a brutal and explosive assault on the senses, moving back and forth between near-chaotic frenzies of speed to punishing breakdowns that pulverize on a planet-cracking scale. That’s what you come for with Condemned, and that’s what you get — but monotony doesn’t set in. The music is too damned explosive for that to happen.
Even simply noticing how the drumwork interacts with the riffing in changing ways makes for an interesting experience. Jupin can certainly attack like an automatic weapon, but that bullet-spitting usually comes in bursts rather than as a non-stop diet. When he syncs up with the riffs in high gear, the effect is obliterating, but just as often there’s a contrast, with hyper-fast double-bass action matched against slow sledgehammering chords, or with deliberate, slower-paced snare hits set against maniacal guitar frenzies.
In addition, while ruthless savagery is the main animating principle in the music, “Ascending the Spectral Throne” includes a doomed, trilling, atmospheric melody that’s striking when you hear it, as is the slow, deep melodic arpeggio that surfaces in “Nefarious Sangine Decree”.
Let us know what you think of the new album in the Comments (and along with our album stream, we’re including the band’s lyric video for “Legion”). To pre-order, go to one of these locations: