Review Summary: Immolation creates a violent, swirling tornado of petrifying vocals and maniacal instrumentals that manages to create the very image of being tortured in hell. A surefire death metal classic.
Hailing from Yonkers, New York, Immolation first began conjuring up ideas in 1986, when death metal was still in its infancy and many thrash bands were at the top of their respective games. Now, 24 years later, they are among the most praised bands in the genre, known for churning out consistently good to spectacular material, beginning with 1991's Dawn of Possession
, considered as a classic of early death metal by many. Since then, several other note-worthy albums, including 1996's Here In After
and their newest hell-hash, 2010's Majesty and Decay
, have been released, showing that Immolation is not only persistent, but is also persistently good
, something that many bands of the genre could only dream of. However, one album continues to stand above them all, one that crushes to the very bones that hold the listener together. This, my friends, is 2000's Close to a World Below
. Now be prepared, as this may hurt...a lot.
As the album begins, creepy, foreboding sounds lead into the ominous line, "Didn't you say, Jesus was coming"". Then, right away, with no warning, the album introduces its demonic and diabolical sound with the opening song, "Higher Coward". Guitarists Robert Vigna and Thomas Wilkinson shred through the album with lightning-fast precision as the guitars strain under the stress of their devilish riffs and schizophrenic soloing, which embody the very image of an inferno. With often jaw-dropping technicality, these two absolutely astonish throughout the album, conjuring up visions of unhallowed chambers where the bodies lie, waiting for the fires of hell to consume them. Maximizing variety, very few of the riffs sound the same, each holding their own wicked intensity (check the title track for one of the best examples of this talent). This is one of the best examples of the utter brutality that a death metal duo can unleash on the ears, and it is both thrilling and terrifying at the same time.
Drumming throughout the album is positively fantastic, as mastermind Alex Hernandez lets loose a fury of abnormally speedy blast beats and dementedly complex fills that will leave most in their wake. Hernandez shows the whole package, as every part of his drum kit is rattling along at blasting speeds, even when the songs are going at a slow pace. A genuinely outstanding performance on the kit. Bassist and growler Ross Dolan contributes his share to the arsenal, as his beastly grunt dominates the album on the vocal dimension. He also has rather good diction at times, allowing for some of the predominantly anti-religious (as you would expect by the album's title), yet not overly gory lyrics to be understood. His bass is also audible in many spots throughout the record, allowing for more of the suffocating heaviness to shatter the listener's ear. On every front, this album impresses, from the damned grunts to the psychotic guitar work and the crazed drumming, it is an experience to behold.
As with many classic albums, poor tracks just avoid this album like the plague. Every song startles to the very core. If I had to pick the best example of the album's sound, I would probably pick the album closing, epic, eight and a half minute title track, "Close to a World Below". This song shows everything that the album symbolizes, and it never gets boring, as other songs of this length may. Spectacular riffs from Vigna and Wilkinson and machine-like drumming from Hernandez fly through the air like bullets between three miniguns. Possessed roars from Dolan, spitting out lines like "The burning gates ablaze in glory, Marvel at the fall of man." and "A world of the power mad...A world of corrupted lives, A world destroying itself ahead of its time." simply send a chill down the spine as they are sent through the ear canal. This song encompasses everything that makes Immolation a stand out death metal outfit. Pure, skull-shattering perfection. Other fiendishly effective tracks include the first three tracks, "Higher Coward", "Father, You're Not a Father" and the aneurysm-inducing "Farthest From the Truth", which combine to create one of the best opening trios, perhaps even trios of any kind, in death metal history, and the equally annihilating "Unpardonable Sin" and "Put My Hand In the Fire", the former of which containing a frightening opening riff, which is among the best on the album and boils images of the album cover as well as anything on the album. As mentioned before, though, the entire album is consistently a fantastic showing.
Close to a World Below
is a prime example of how good death metal can be if it is done right. A hurricane of insane instrumentals and satanic growls hits the listener in the face from beginning to end and really thrashes them throughout its entire length. To all fans of death metal, if you do not have this yet, get it now
, as it is one of the most consistently outrageous albums the genre has ever produced, while containing no noticeable flaws. Fantastic from beginning to finish, Close to a World Below
gets a 5 out of 5.