Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Immolation - Close to a World Below (2000)

For my money, this is the last "essential" Immolation album. Sure, I thought that 'Majesty and Decay' was a great comeback after the relatively dull duo of 'Harnessing Ruin' and 'Shadows in the Light', but as far as the band's initial winning streak in concerned, 'Close to a World Below' is pretty much where the band made their final stand before succumbing to that great worm known as mediocrity.

While I agree that Bob Vigna deserves all the praise he receives I also think that it's a bit tragic that not much is said of former guitarist Tom Wilkinson's many contributions to the band's sound up until this point (as CTAWB would be his final album with the band). It's as if he's been forgotten since his departure so long ago. Too bad, as the difference between the last four albums and the first four is pretty obvious. From 'Dawn...' up until 'Close...' the band's compositions were loaded to the brim with bizarre eccentricities and an unmistakable "evilness" that was seemingly inherent to the band's sound, whether they could help it or not. Since Wilkinson's departure the band had lost much of the weirdness that made listening to Immolation such a unique experience to begin with.

CTAWB is a veritable smorgasbord of odd timing, eerie string bends and harmonics derived from the swamps of some misbegotten netherworld.  There is never a dull moment on this record and the band even goes so far as to incorporate a few more elements into their style previously unheard.

It's clearly evident that drummer Alex Hernandez was coming into his own this time around. That's not to say that he sounded out of place on the band's previous longplayer, 'Failures for Gods', but this time around you can hear a bit of the technique that he had employed during his time with Fallen Christ. Up until that point, CTAWB was the fastest Immolation album as the band were finally allowing full on blast beats to be added to the mix.

It's almost as if the album cover was an indication that the band's collective brilliance was at an end and there was nowhere else to go after this. The demons had won. Christ was burning in Hell and the band had served its ultimate purpose. Sure, they haven't committed any sort of musically treasonous act such as Morbid Angel nor did they jump on the black metal bandwagon as a countless sum of their generational peers had done in the years prior to this albums release, but as evidenced with Deicide and the lot of their output post-Legion, Immolation had simply run out of gas and ideas and it would take a few albums for them to realize that. Despite the fact that 'Majesty and decay' is a pretty damn good album, I do not feel that it's quite on the same level as CTAWB or the trio of albums before it, though it's certainly a level or two beyond the dull mediocrity of 'Harnessing...' and 'Shadows...'. Whether or not Immolation returns to the bizarre nethervoid that spawned their first four albums remains to be seen.

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