For nearly one thousand years, the world was run from one city. For the better part of a millennium, peoples rose and fell by the whims of Rome. From Republic, to Empire, to a bitter memory, a thousand nations fell below the blades of Caesars, beneath the sandals and distinctive rectangular shield of the centurion. Blood and violence were as much the coin of the Empire as gold pieces emblazoned with the likeness of Augustus. The second half of the Empire’s reign is characterised by its shift toward a new capital in the East, Constantinople, and the adoption of Christianity as the Empire’s official religious body. This was of course preceded by many decades of state-sponsored religious exterminations, public executions and blood sport. The violence and catastrophe that befell the Western Roman Empire left the region in turmoil for centuries, as barbarian hordes marauded across Europe in the void of power left behind, was seemingly apocalyptic in horror. The times were appropriately dubbed the Dark Ages of Europe’s history. The bleak and merciless social climate conjures images of the end of days, of the Biblical punishment of man for his crimes against his brothers. A brutal age, and seemingly an age not yet over.
Out of the heartland of the once-great Empire comes a wholly new form of chaos. While, much like the Empire before them, they have been overshadowed by fresher, if similar acts of mutual roots, Italian technical death metal masters HOUR OF PENANCE have returned with the Biblically named Cast the First Stone.
Featuring the fitting visage of religious holy wars, the album is seemingly oh so well aware of the imagery and symbolism linking the barbarism of ages long past with the continued bloodshed in the Middle East. This is very much a political album, though a criticism of man more than of men. The violence instilled in such a work is evident in the final product, for if this album is anything, it is violence made sound.
HOUR OF PENANCE have found a signature style, combining the imperial majesty of Rome with the dark tone of its Empire’s exploits. This has led to a sound reminiscent of BEHEMOTH’s late 2010s output, along with a similar commentary of religion. Cast the First Stone is no different, and that’s the issue with it: it is no different from the last album, Regicide. An improvement, certainly, but no different in any significant way. This means that if one is already an established fan of the band, then there’s the high potential for enjoyment. Otherwise, this may prove a dull affair. The album is technically proficient, and reasonably well produced, but lacks personality. There is little that sets the album apart from the rest of death metal today, and despite all its victories, it still seems like a losing war against obsolescence.
Cast the First Stone doesn’t do much. There are no stand-out moments, no catchy hooks, no moments of particular brilliance. It almost seems like a band writing from a checklist of moves to make, rather than a fluid process of evolution and progression. If anything, the album’s theme of the continued strife inflicted by organised religion seems a little ironic, considering this seems to be a mere continuation of a pre-existing sound. Cast the First Stone is not a bad album by any means. It just displays all too readily a band that has become too comfortable in writing the same album for every release. There are no risks, and thus no rewards, and when this is the case, it’s far too easy to start picking holes in a once brilliant sound.
Cast The First Stone is set for release on January 27th via Prosthetic Records.
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