Keeping up with metal releases in this day and age is a challenging feat. It seems like every day there’s a new band, new trend, new one-man bedroom project, and new label to follow. And with metal’s somewhat flexible nature, it seems that there’s always some new recipe to discover that puts a new twist into a tried-and-true cocktail that lets you see the genre or subgenre in a new way. With that as the backdrop for metal in 2022, let’s say there are trendsetters and there are those who end up chasing these trends, and frankly, both are noble efforts that often culminate into something beautiful and a blast to listen to. I’ll not assign some sort of merit badge to either approach; good music is good music irrespective of these somewhat arbitrary boolean categories that I have superficially created, but I think you can see what I’m setting up here: Immolation are a band that follows no one aside from their own intuitions, brutal as they are.
To take a quick look back, its been five years since we’ve heard from this band, and that’s hardly gone unnoticed by those of us who enjoy their work. After so long of a break and the last outing being considered a modern classic by some, which in turn was preceded by a litany of classics in the genre, the expectations are high for this record, and it’s a pressure that the band no doubt felt but welcomed. After all, these guys are legends in the scene, with Ross Dolan being my favorite American death metal vocalist. While that’s an arguable point, I know I’m not alone in such a declaration. Also, guitar wizard and entertainer extraordinaire Robert Vigna manages to find new and creative ways to riff and make his guitar do his bidding with a precision that few others have mastered. So with the staff and pedigree to create something incredible, let’s investigate Acts of God, shall we?
There are a few things that I knew going in, the first of which is that this was going to be a girthy album, clocking in at just shy of 53 minutes, which, in terms of a band like Immolation, can be a lot to take in. However, I did my best not to presuppose that this was too much and started the journey. Right off, I noticed that in the five years since their last outing, they hadn’t lost a step, not only in their musical chops but also in ambition and songwriting prowess. There was a flow that was established early on, with the title track serving as the slingshot that send the album in motion, Dolan’s articulate-but-seismic vocals leading the charge on each track and the riffs courtesy of Vigna and Alex Bouks pushing and pulling against those vocals to create that signature Immolation tension. Drummer Steve Shalaty’s blast beats and crisp cymbal work punctuate each moment along the way, especially shining near the midpoint of the album on tracks like “Blooded” and “Overtures of the Wicked”. The latter of these is a highlight track for me, with its overarching pace feeling like the gigantic gait of an oncoming doom all while the frantic blast beats push the song to incredible heights before crumbling to a conclusion.
By the halfway point I could tell Immolation knew that they may be wise to place a song or two in the tracklisting that would assist with the digestion of this mammoth album, so the more plodding “Immoral Stain” takes the pace down just a scosche, but there’s still plenty of double kicks and riffs to which I could bang my head. “Incineration Procession” is a quaintly named track that lets the pace and tone lighten even more, feeling much like a bridge to the B-side of the album. It was around this point that I realized just how smart this decision was, as my brain and neck were ready to have a moment of respite. Which is a good thing, because “Broken Prey” may just have the riff of the year and my neck went right back to work immediately upon hearing it.
The tracks that close the record are a memorable lot, with the frantic and classically named “When Halos Burn”, the plodding and methodical “Let the Darkness In”, and the brief-but-gorgeous instrumental track, “And the Flames Wept”. But Immolation won’t let the record end in mellow fashion, as “Apostle” shows with panache. There are few bands that can make this level of intensity seem effortless, and this final song just leans into the band’s strengths, making it one of the finest songs on Acts of God.
Assessing my final thoughts on a record like this is often difficult. This is a band I love and who have yet to make a massive misstep, and Acts of God keeps that streak alive with ease. This is one of the premier acts in all of metal, and having seen them live, I can tell you they are one of the tightest bands I’ve ever seen; by far one of the most entertaining, too. With all of the expectations riding on this record, I think that Immolation managed to dodge any pitfalls while staying true to their New York death metal roots and knocked it out of the park. Will you like this if you don’t like Immolation already? No. Simply put, this album will not convert those who have heard the word of Immolation and discarded it. But if you’ve been watching the skies awaiting the return of one of the best bands on the planet, you’ll feel nothing but rapturous joy as the Acts of God wash over you.