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Immolation | ‘Kingdom Of Conspriacy’

When you have a discography as consistent as Immolation’s the pressure to continue delivering grows with each album, as does the interestingness of the debate as to how each new record fits into that stellar back catalogue.

With Kingdom Of Conspiracy this chatter has been directed mostly in one direction and that is the drum sound, so to start this review it would be prudent to address the elephant in the room.

Even if you’re the most dedicated fan of Immolation’s more organic-sounding 1990’s output and haven’t heard this album yet then I wouldn’t sweat it if you’re worried about the online hand-wringing going on.

Yes the drum tone is a little stale, but we’re not talking bedroom-Grindcore butter tubs or even the manufactured sound favoured by the modern Tech Death brigade here.

The complaint is so slight that after 2 or 3 listens (the time it normally takes with an Immolation to let those insidious riffs really take hold) it ceases to be an issue- and while the imperious tone of albums that ended with 2005’s ‘Harnessing Ruin’ will probably never make a return, the drums on this record are actually mostly spot on for the theme and overall atmosphere.

Steve Shalatay is now the band’s longest-serving drummer having been with Immo a decade, and every bit as capable and proficient in playing as the two guys who preceded him.

But kind of like Jason Newsted in Metallica he still seems somewhat of an outsider, a stand-in. After all, since Alex Hernandez who helmed the good ship Immolation through their pinnacle period of 1999-2002, the drum parts have actually been written by guitarist Robert Vigna.

To my mind having a guitarist write drum parts has no doubt been a contributing factor in the unvarying nature of the albums since then.

On ‘Kingdom Of Conspiracy’ however the drums are the most interesting they’ve sounded in years, even if only at certain points during the album. Case in point wouldn’t be second track ‘Bound To Order’ where in classic Immolation fashion the malevolent riffs drive the song with the rhythm coming behind, but the purposely mechanical feel to the fills between pinch harmonic-filled riffs are killer.

Regardless of whether this is Shalaty’s work or Vigna finally starting to learn to write more interesting drum parts that almost Fear Factory-like touch to the drums perfectly fits the dystopian theme and aura that is on display here.

Which brings us neatly to bone number two that long-term fans of the bands have been picking- the cover art. I’m going to come out and say it though- with the exception of ‘Unholy Cult’ every Immolation cover from ‘Close To A World Below’ up to ‘Shadows In The Light’ was a bit gick and practically interchangeable with any work from Deicide, Satyricon or a dozen other bands during that period.

It may not be as unique as Pär Olofsson’s previous collaboration with the band on the cover of ‘Majesty And Decay’, and a few indentikit young Death and Thrash bands in recent years have sported something fairly similar; but given that Olofsson is the man behind most of those bright blue and purple “Close Encounters Of The Tech Death Kind” vomit-inducers so in vogue with the likes of The Faceless these days you can at least be glad he hasn’t lumped Immo with something in his usual style.

While this cover may hurt the eyes of those raised on the beautiful hand-drawn efforts of the likes of Ed Repka and Dan Seagrave it is nonetheless as appropriate to the the themes and music as the one for Majesty And Decay, perhaps even more so.

And if it entices some young buck under the delusion that Death Metal started with Dying Fetus to pick this up and then work his way through the most dominating back catalogue in the genre then it can only be a good thing.

I can say that with such certainty because, obvious concerns from old school fans about the drum sound and artwork which I’ve attempted to lay to rest above, this is unmistakably an Immolation record.

When this album is good, like on the despondent almost Death/Doom aura of ‘Keep The Silence’ or the crowning glory of closer ‘All That Awaits Us’ (the riff you’ll find hardest to eliminate from your head like you’d ever want to), it is great. Riff-wise especially Robert Vigna is firing on all cylinders here, with some of his best work in years.

When the album is not so mighty though it still wipes the floor with most of Immolation’s contemporaries and disciples. ‘Indoctrinate’ and ‘A Spectacle Of Lies’ may be the most samey songs on here, but you still have to marvel at the mastery of a band who can transition from deadly riff to deadly riff without ever suffering from the uninspiring “riff-salad syndrome.”

In terms of songcraft too this ranks amongst some of Immolation’s best moments.

Disappointing as it may be to some fans that they left behind the sneering, evil imperiousness of their early works behind years ago, Immo craft an altogether different atmosphere here equally as well.

The shift towards political themes has been happening on all their works since 9/11 (in which members of bassist/vocalist Ross Dolan’s own family were killed) but they are at their absolute strongest they’ve ever been here on the dour yet strangely anthemic “Echoes Of Despair.”

That odd blend of feelings sums up the aura of the whole record- desolate, downbeat but by no means defeated.

Death Metal is not usually known for its cultural relevance but if Immolation were aiming to reflect the current atmosphere in America of both impending doom and audacious hopefulness then they’ve probably come closer to that than any other Death Metal band could dream of.

I can’t ever imagine though that politics will ever supplant the music in importance with this band though and nuances like the epic, almost Primordial-like intro to ‘The Great Sleep’ prove that Immolation are still all about being the very best they can musically.

As pioneers of both the dark, twisted songwriting oriented side to the Death Metal genre and the complex technical side too they may have been bettered in each field by some of the bands they have inspired. But no band has ever been a master of both quite as much as they have.

A dud in the catalogue of Immolation? Perish the thought!

4.1/5 – Matty Moore ::: 07/06/13

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