With the predecessor to this album, 1996's Abducted, Hypocrisy made the plunge from the safe platform of death metal down into the risky waters of MELO DEATH, a sub-genre which some 'heads like to deride as being an irritating, neutered bastardization of the "real" thing. While I personally love me some MD, I do understand why the con side of the debate feels the way they do, at least when it comes to certain melo bands. However, any criticisms of mid-period Hypocrisy (as represented by Abducted & The Final Chapter) as being "neutered" death metal are grossly off-target, as the band stuck with gritty, kick-ass rhythm guitar sounds, guttural growled vocals, and heavy riffing on both albums, and if the band wanted to evolve their sound some by introducing catchier riffs, some clean vocals, and those cleaner, winding lead guitar lines (so typical of melo death) into the mix, who are we to be nay-sayers? Variety's the spice of life, after all. Anyway, Hypocrisy at this time weren't just "melo death", they were in more of an unidentified middle-point genre in between traditional death and melo, although The Final Chapter in particular leans more towards death metal. You do hear melo ingredients on Chapter, but it's an essential part of the game of contrasts Hypocrisy played here, a game which they executed expertly.
With that mini-sermon over, I'll return to the topic of Abducted by saying that, while it was a great album in its own right, with plenty of entertaining songs, heavy, catchy riffing, and pleasant dichotomies in songwriting and vocal stylings, it ultimately feels like a warm-up for The Final Chapter, the ultimate Hypocrisy album as far as I'm concerned. While I'm not too crazy about opener "Inseminated Adoption", as some of its riffing feels a little too nu-metal-y for comfort (though it's still solid), Chapter really gets down to business with the second track, "A Coming Race", which really shows off the band's new-found talent for balancing slower, punishing death metal riffing with the catchier, relatively up-beat guitar work of melodic death.
Songwriting-wise, this track is one of the best examples I can offer of that vaunted sweet spot that lies in-between being too repetitive and being too schizophrenic & hyper, nicely navigating that particular tightrope the whole way, and while "Race" only lasts for 5 minutes, its insistent, midtempo pacing, songwriting variation, and integration of background-synth work (courtesy of the ever-talented Peter Tatgren) all give it this epic, awe-inspiring sense of scope that nothing on Abducted (or on most metal albums, for that matter) can match, and help cement the song as one of Chapter's finest moments. Listening to it, you really do feel like there's a huge fleet of of Greys hovering about overhead, ready to come down and abducting/mating with the human race.
With the completion of "A Coming Race", and the way it contrasts the faster "Inseminated Adoption", Hypocrisy establishes a tight blueprint for the overall track flow on this album, which is mostly a fast song followed by a slower song, rinse-and-repeat ad nauseum. While this does make the track flow of Chapter very predictable, you never get bored with the album because the individual songwriting is so compelling. It's a pretty unimaginative way to structure an album, but the pleasing dichotomy maintained throughout between relentless headbangers like "Through The Window Of Time" and slower, more ambitious tracks like "A Coming Race" ensures you get a satisfying, near-perfect balance of both styles here, and I'm sure as hell not going to complain with all the other unbalanced metal records out there in the world.
Besides "Adoption", I really have no complaints about any track here; everything is at least good, with many tracks here being great, such as "Inquire Within" with its eerie, space-y keyboard intro, "Request Denied" with its shockingly calm clean vocals and acoustic guitar/keyboard interlude, "Lies" with its church bell solo (I'm not joking), or the excellent Razor cover "Evil Invaders", with some incredible, downright inhuman shriek-growling from Tat. All this successful sound experimentation helps contribute to Chapter's overall freshness, and while I'm not as crazy about the clean vocals here as I am the growling, I do still enjoy them, and even if the vocal styles-contrast here had failed, you'd still have to give Tatgren respect for taking an honest artistic risk like it; c'mon, I know you don't just want to stick with boring Suffocation knock-offs for the rest of your metal life, do ya?
In other facets of the sounds on Chapter, I love the downright demonic growling style Pete uses, as well as the sandpaper-consistency rhythm guitar sound, both of which keep plenty of heaviness in the picture here; with the rhythm guitar, if you turn up it real loud and close your eyes, you can almost see yourself reaching out with a hand and scraping your hand on its sound, so strong and vivid is the texture. So, with all that heavy goodness, plus the way that, heaviness be damned, The Final Chapter is just Hypocrisy's best, most rewarding, consistent album to date (and probably for forever), I must again register my befuddlement at the metalheads who try to diminish this record in any way. It isn't that I don't kind of enjoy some of the albums Hypocrisy has made since this one, but if they had stayed broken-up after this as planned, it's really hard to think of a better note they could've gone out on. I do regret that, due to all the growling, Tatgren's decision not to print the lyrics here means many of them will forever remain a mystery to me (or at least until I really bother to try to decipher them, which will be probably be never), but that doesn't stop The Final Chapter from being one of my favorite albums.