Review Summary: Paint it, black
NYHC mainstays and reliably vicious noisemakers All Out War have had a remarkably consistent run of no-frills tough-guy hardcore releases since breaking into the scene with their debut full-length Truth In The Age Of Lies in 1997. Straddling a border between Slayer/ Carcass-esque thrash sensibilities and their own brand of metallic hardcore, The outfit have made some gratifying developments to their sound over the years, emphasising and toning down elements where necessary, but also incorporating influences from genres such as death, industrial and more chaotic strains of hardcore. Celestial Rot, as its slightly more grandiose title and theatrical, even darker-than-typical album art would suggest, is another attempt at integrating new facets into their sound, this time treading the murky waters of blackened hardcore. While there have been clear influences of the blackened sound on some of their previous releases, Celestial Rot is far more overt in its direction, and demonstrates a commitment to the aesthetic that manages to revitalise certain aspects of the bands bearing, without tainting their signature blend of chunky riffs, ferocious vocals and thrash tendencies. Granted, the album does elbow some of these established aspects into the background somewhat, but the foreground is so pervaded by headbanging riffs, intimidating howls and thunderous breakdowns that the release coasts by as a flash of well-oiled, consistent, if markedly familiar aggression.
There is notable dearth of some of the dynamism so prevalent on past releases by the quintet, particularly in relation to the more hardcore-centric motifs such as bass-heavy breaks, vocal interludes and a comparatively dominant thrash influence. In their stead, a battering onslaught of blackened rage, positively fit to burst with huge riffs and overwhelmingly thick production. Despite the shift, the band have somehow managed to retain their endearing sense of DIY musicality, creating a sense of oppressively layered, distorted yet crisply produced barbarity. This allows the hooks, grooves and vocals to occupy their own space within the musical landscape despite the overarching sound feeling so unrelentingly crushing. Songs like 'Glorious Devastation' and 'Hideous Disdain' exhibit huge wall-of-sound stylistics and make smart use of instrumental dissonance by way of battering percussion and abrasive grooves that feel simultaneously brutal yet toe-tappingly catchy. The latter especially has a distinctly brooding edge that, much like later moment 'Revel In Misery', is able to capitalise on the downtempo riffing to create a savagely primal feel. 'Wrath Plague' and closer 'Shroud Of Heaven' utilise rousing, beseeching asides that feel appropriately cataclysmic and again seal the package with that appropriate 'blackened' nuance. Throughout the assault, there are machine gun blastbeats and meaty breakdowns aplenty that are always well-implemented without feeling like unneeded additions to the main body of the songs. The use of doubled vocal lines on certain tracks, where a backup growl accompanies the main rasp at the forefront, is also quite inspired and adds verve and depth to the onslaught. Group vocals, where used, are suitably intimidating.
Although Celestial Rot is an album of consistent quality, there are moments where the uniform sound gives way to repetition and a sense of underdevelopment becomes more apparent. Tracks such as 'Caustic Abomination' and 'Weaving Oblivion' demonstrate this most notably, feeling like retreads of earlier album cuts. Despite instances throughout of frenzied dissonance and the sweeping blackened aspirations, the overall feel of the experience will be instantly recognisable to long-time listeners, its belligerent tailoring a welcome aggrandisement of their more recent efforts, perhaps most notably Give Me Extinction. A lack of ambition is perhaps the critique that has been levelled against All Out War the most throughout their career, and although it is always refreshing to see them injecting new ideas into their sound, the base layer remaining so consistent is certainly reasonable grounds for the accusation. Although the blackened direction is stirring and exciting, just below the surface bubbles an clear sense of familiarity that will both alienate and attract listeners in equal measure. Yet, the enthusiastic, revitalised feel of Celestial Rot offers enough consistency and hard-headedness to be sufficiently diverting and engrossing during its relatively svelte 25 minute runtime. Ultimately, it's a satisfyingly heavy slice of hardcore that pulses with a ferocious, violent energy.