Review Summary: A stellar release that sees Extol remind us just what we have been missing in their 8 year absence..
Extol left many fans with a bad taste in their mouth with what was their final album, The Blueprint Dives, in 2005. They had lost both original guitarists and ventured far from their progressive roots with music that was literally a shell of their signature sound. After the release of that album, they quietly disappeared from the metal scene entirely with not much more than a whimper. So when I found they had just released an new album in 2013, I was quite skeptical about 'which' Extol I would be hearing....the progressive black/death metal from albums like Burial and Undecieved or the lackluster post-rock of The Blueprint Dives.
Needless to say, I was floored by their new self-titled release. Paired down to only three members, the sound is much bigger than the sum of its parts. The return of their old guitarist/clean vocalist, Ole Borud, seems to be that quintessential missing piece. When getting down to the music, there is no reference BUT referencing Extol. To anyone who has followed their releases, each album is truly a sound unto its own. Their debut, Burial, leaned towards a predominately black metal sound. The follow-up, Undeceived, was more progressive tech- death. The next album, Synergy, had purposely stripped down production, with an almost pure thrash sound. So to say this album is reminiscent of any one album would be unfair. What is absolutely brilliant in what they have achieved is to harness elements from their entire back catalog and infuse it with a new energy that makes this album the perfect amalgamation of the ‘Extol’ sound.
The first thing that grabbed me was the deep guitar tones. They have changed from six string guitars to a seven string, adding that extra bottom end, that gives some of the songs an almost Meshuggah like groove. The production is the best they have ever had. While on some of their older albums, pristine production may have taken away from some of the atmosphere they were creating, here it allows every guitar riff, every drum beat, and the vocals to truly shine.
The music is heavy, technical, and they utilize all the tricks in their bag. They have awkward and augmented time signatures, strangely hypnotic - progressive riffs, and almost every song on this album has a different flow and feel from the song preceding it. The closest comparison musically that comes to mind would be Ihsahn, on perhaps angL or After, and even perhaps Enslaved. There are moments of bone crushing heaviness, such as on Wastelands and Sting of Death. There are sections in some of the material that is almost breath-taking in the beauty such as the chorus on Betrayal.
It is ingenious the way they integrate the heaviness, the progressive elements, and the black metal styled screams with very dreamy clean vocals (reminiscent of Mikael Akerfeldt/Opeth). It is that exact juxtaposition that made Opeth so magnificent on albums such as Blackwater Park and Enslaved on Isa that makes Extol re-emerge as a top tier metal act. When Extol formed in 1993, the metal scene was not overflowing with young acts brilliantly mixing so many elements of metal and progressive rock into one glorious package. Although that scene is very different today, with dozens of bands that are almost unclassifiable with their technical abilities and integration of a myriad of styles, Extol stands tall above most of them. It is perplexing how good this album sounds after an 8 year hiatus. It fits perfectly in their cannon and with the rise in appreciation for more progressive metal bands, this could be the album that finally sees Extol get some of the recognition they deserve.