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From The Vaults #8 | Immolation’s ‘Failures For Gods’

It was an album that came out of nowhere to astound many and breathe much needed new fire into Death Metal.

It had an oddball production that was nonetheless totally intriguing. But most of all it had songs. Grade A songs that still sound powerful and provocative today, fifteen years on.

‘Failures For Gods’ may not be the best album in Immolation’s discography, but it’s the most important. It was the one that turned the band from being a washed up death metal casualty of the Great Roadrunner Cull into one of the most important acts the genre has ever had.

So while many will say ‘Unholy Cult’ captured better the essence of the band at its peak, I’d argue that without this gamechanger album, they’d never have even gotten to it.

The band’s two previous albums, ‘Dawn Of Possession’ and the lesser ‘Herein After’ were utterly unremarkable affairs as death metal goes. Alright, so ‘Dawn’s songwriting showed hints of the excellence to follow. But these really were meat and potatoes stuff.

Three critical factors came together to make ‘Failures’ go far beyond them.

That Production – So Wierd It’s Great

Even when it came out, it was an object of intense debate. Was this a great production or an awful one?

It was all down to Paul Orofino. He was the absolute antithesis of the Jim Morris or Scott Burns producer who’d been churning out death metal since the late 80s. Far from it. The hardest he’d done before 1998 was Riot, or a little bit of shredding from Vinnie Moore.

What he brought to ‘Failures’ however would come not only to define this record, but the sound of the band itself.

What’s odd about it?

Well, it can best be described as muffled, gluggy, brown, cardboardy, dense, like molasses, or any other amount of inadequate words.

The bass drums, far from clicky, are pronounced, thuddish and bizzarrely tuned to a sort of low mid-range – like typing on a clunky fat keyboard. The snare had a certain tubbiness. The guitars are rounded, as opposed to the scooped sharpness of the Florida school. The vocals, free from reverb, are dry as the sahara. It is exceptionally strange.

Marry this to Immo’s dissonant and muddy chordal choices and you’ve got one ugly concoction. Basically, it was a unique sound – the only real reference point being (perhaps) the crushingly dense murk of Nile’s ‘Amongst The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka’ from a year previously. There are very few other comparitors, save for demos that were very likely trying their best not to sound like that at all.

Yet there was a lot to love in this strange sound. It gave the band an immediate sound all of their own. The plainness and lack of effect gave away how superb the playing was, and almost demanded you listen more and more.

The Drumming

The other key thing about this record’s role in defining the band was the arrival of Alex Hernandez on drums.

Orofino’s odd production gave him an overly pronounced place in the mix, and whether by accident or design, it would come to make his drumming central to the very voicing of the band.

He just did incredible shit on this album – whether in the form of intricate fills, furious blastbeats or the immense creativity within his tom work, every beat is worth savouring.

Hear the opening riffs of ‘No Jesus, No Beast’. What is going on there? What seems like a straight 4/4 riff only with the hi-hats pulsing along in 3/4, it’s a total mind melt, and yet so easy to get sucked into. He does the same thing on the ride cymbal during those blasts as well- something many a death metal drummer has come to copy.

Even deep album cuts, like ‘Your Angel Died’ where he’s playing so hard the bass drums sound like they’re about to overtake the snare, are worth hearing for his work.

Without doubt, Hernandez raised a death metal bar on this one. Yes, Sandoval was still at the top of the tree, and yes, guys like Kevin Talley were pushing the very speed barriers at around the same time. But Alex Hernandez had a voice and an approach of his own, and that was vital.

The Amazing Tunes

It is an album of anthems. No-one had written lyrics with such memorably irreligious fire since Deicide’s ‘Once Upon The Cross’ (and arguably, very few still have risen to that plate) – with songs and lyrics, like ‘Once’, that were both direct and memorable.

Stick it on tonight and right from the start you can feel yourself mouthing the lyrics even after all these years.
It’s easy to underestimate what the ferocity of opener ‘Once Ordained’ was like back in 1999. A mucky hurricane of sound, whipping everything up into its blastbeats. Then, two bona-fide death metal classics.

‘No Jesus, No Beast’ with its slamming chorus after tumble upon tumble of double kick underlay (just listen to those kicks alone – it’s an incredible performance) sent shivers down the spine for the bands preparedness to bark those lyrics out so clearly and fully.

Then the title track itself; a masterly crafted riff that had athem written all over it. Serious, severe and solemn, it stands towering like the devil on the album artwork. After that unholy reversed guitar, the little skip beat on the snare which lent it a miltaristic, parading air and yet with a impossible to ignore groove too.

It remains a masterstroke, bettered again by the blasting follow up with its ‘Icon of icons’ vocal hook.

Even the guitars were odd too – the solos not fluid legato, or speedy tapping arpeggios, but instead a sort of strangulated gasps that sounded as if they were being wrung out rather than merely played.

So it goes on, track after track.

The band would go on to record a string of increasingly awesome albums after it. The ferocious ‘Close To A World Below’ which managed to get even more intensely heavy, and the ultimate distillation of their sound and technical tightness, ‘Unholy Cult’. And you could perhaps argue that these are more consistent or more powerful albums.

‘Failures’ however is still the one I reach for. In its oddity it gained personality. It was a perfect companion piece for Nile, and Gorguts’ epochal ‘Obscura’ of 1998 – a talisman album signalling that death metal was changing for good.

And not only death metal – for would we have the Deathspell Omegas, Bolzers and Dead Congregations of this world without a reborn Immolation? Probably not, without the seminal, dark, difficult and writhing sound of this classic album.

Earl Grey ::: 01/12/14

  1. Have to say, when I want to listen to this period of Immo, ‘Close To A World Below’ would be the one I always reach for…but great review nonetheless and good to see them getting props again….just a fucking phenomenal band full stop.

  2. Tezcatlipoca Says:

    The ending to ‘The Devil I Know’ is perfect.

    Great article. I absolutely adore this album, even if ‘Closer…’ is my favourite.

  3. Love this album – as said this and ‘Amongst the Catocombs…’ kept DM interesting for me at the time.

  4. pentagrimes Says:

    “Dawn Of Possession” unremarkable? You must be joking.

  5. paul keohane Says:

    Love this album, No jesus no beast is one my favourite immolation tunes, I love everything theyve done,i have a real soft spot for Unholy Cult,but Dawn of Possession is unbeatable.

  6. general ler Says:

    Much prefer here in after. Good album but I prefer the earlier ones and CTAWB

  7. So raw and ugly. Immolation’s evil guitar always got me. The solos are so fucking bananas. Imagine Allen West doing something like that rather than the same solo he has played on every single song with that cheesy divebomb

  8. Owenofhexxed Says:

    Just a phenomenal album – this would be my favourite though all their stuff is great.

    Bought this, Angelcorpse – inexorable, MA formulas and Nile – catacombs around the same time. Fond memories

  9. resonant paddy Says:

    Fuck, remember pickin this up in bpm records in waterford when it came out. Remember duckin from school one day to pick it up and throw it on the huge cd walk man I had down the park!!! Good times!

  10. nazgulbrian Says:

    I never got around to listening to much of Immolation, must rectify that. Although I did see them live at Graspop years back. Didn’t know one song by the band and thought they were easily in my top 5 or 10 bands of the whole weekend.

  11. owenofhexxed Says:

    Yeah Immolation have always been fantastic live, seen them 3 times now and they’ve always delivered the same intensity live as on album… if not more

    Brian, just get the whole back catalog – one of the most consistent DM bands. Tunes, technique and a real individual sound… as CT has mentioned

    Think it might have been Vogg from Decapitated who said ‘Immolation are the death-metaller’s death metal band’ – always thought that was an apt way to define them.

  12. The death metallers death metal band? Fuck yeah! This record along with hate eternal , nile and angelcorpse define this period of metal history for me. True classic

  13. Great to see this album getting the full blown treatment in From The Vaults, but here, gotta make some reference to that iconic artwork Earl

  14. “The band’s two previous albums, ‘Dawn Of Possession’ and the lesser ‘Herein After’ were utterly unremarkable affairs as death metal goes.”

    With respect, fuck right off with that comment. Really? REALLY?!

    le sigh.

    Right, now I’m going back to read the rest of the article.

  15. pentagrimes Says:

    Yeah, that one comment is more enraging than 100 Zom reviews. Absolute bullshit.

    As if any “unremarkable” band could write a song of the same quality of “Those Left Behind” or “Into Everlasting Fire”.

  16. Hence the full quote and not just the selected string, which is precisely what I was referring to. In the annals of classic DM, herein after has manifestly not figured – and as good as some of the songs on DoP very obviously are, it just isn’t remarkable in comparison to its peers of the era, I feel. Further, what came later, starting with failures, surpassed it in every level.

  17. pentagrimes Says:

    I’d rate it (DOP) above many of it’s peers at the time, and it establishes their sound and approach unmistakeably from the get go.Everything else they’ve done has been a refinement of what they did on that album.

  18. Hands down my favourite death metal band.Heavily influenced by them I have to say.

  19. “Here in after” paved the way for “failures”… Which is definitely one of my favorites. Being produced by a non death metal typical guy gave it that special flavour, and made it a landmark indeed.

  20. Prolonged Spumesence Says:

    I knew that comment on DOP and HIA was going to be divisive from the moment I read it. Definitely have to join the voices speaking out in opposition to the sentiments expressed.

    Under appreciated and generally largely unnoticed? Certainly. Here in After was released when things were really at their lowest ebb in terms of DM and DOP was released in 1991, which was by and large a year absolutely flooded with high profile DM releases, mostly from bands hitting album number two or three, and DOP, being a debut, probably got lost in the pile: Human, Testimony, Mental Funeral, Clandestine, Warmaster, Butchered and Birth, Unquestionable Presence, Gothic, Blessed are the Sick etc. To write them both off as “Unremarkable” is beyond a disservice to two incredibly good albums.

    Here in after is the first one I got and still the one I’d reach for more than the others, Though they’ve arguably been the one of the most consisted groups quality-wise it’s difficult to pick a clear favourite, especially from the first 5 or so. HIA is bookended by possibly two of their finest tunes too.

    Failures though… That arrived at just the right time. That period where people were beginning to take notice again and releases like this, Among the Catacombs, Conquerers of Armageddon, Despise the Sun, The Inexorable and Obscura were each in their own way proving that DM could still be interesting, fresh and relevant.

    I remember working at my first decent paying job round that period and going to the cellar once or twice a week to pick up new stuff and rarely being disappointed by what I picked up. Stuff like the above mentioned albums as well as the likes of None so Vile, Gore Metal, The Dead Shall Dead remain, Exterminate etc even Hate Eternal’s first one had a few decent tracks on it.

    All afore mentioned releases (Catacombs, Inexorable etc), it should be added were from groups that had been plugging away during those dark years of the mid 90’s. I

    d almost put Failures on the top of the pile. It really put things back into motion, and I think by and large the momentum has been generally retained, what,16/15 years on? (wow has it been that long?)

  21. “Human, Testimony, Mental Funeral, Clandestine, Warmaster, Butchered and Birth, Unquestionable Presence, Gothic, Blessed are the Sick etc.”

    That’s precisely what I meant when I called it unremarkable. In comparison to the stuff around it in those years it is barely if ever even remembered. The other stuff was REMARKABLE as that list demonstrates. Immo just wasnt in comparison. Yes there are good songs on DoP. I’m not saying there arent. But compared to any one of those classic albums above… it just aint up there. Hence that comment in that context.

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