Immolation – Unholy Cult (2002)
Six years can either do a lot to a band, or nothing at all. Immolation’s 1996 album Here in Afteris a masterpiece of death metal that mixes accessible hooks into complex songwriting. Unholy Cult is much the same in that regard, but with a stronger production, a sharper ear for melody, and an overall more accessible take on the same ideas they had in previous recordings. When you think about it, large changes and no changes need not be mutually exclusive… if you ignore that much of Immolation’s evolution between this album and its predecessors happens on the surface.
Even once you peel away the top-level changes, Immolation seems more theatrical and melodramatic than they were in the past. Here in After feels more methodical and perhaps a bit more distant from its subject matter – the production even sounds more distant on that album. While Unholy Cult doesn’t lose the clarity of such, I find that it sounds fuller and more aggressive. Given that the album is also written to be more direct at times, I’d say this is an appropriate development that contributes well to the overall product.
The first apparent culprit would be lineup changes. The band’s longtime creative core (Ross Dolan and Robert Vigna) remains on Unholy Cult, and to this day even, but a new drummer and rhythm guitarist enter the fold. The drummer in particular (Alex Hernandez) seems to have a simpler, more martial style than his predecessor, and Bill Taylor may be responsible for the increase in melodic riffs, but not knowing exactly who wrote these songs (credits say ‘all songs by Immolation’) makes it more difficult to determine who’s responsible for the admittedly small changes in direction. One thing I do miss from this more polished approach are the more spontaneous, creative songwriting turns of Here in After – needless to say, then was a band that could make them work, and 2002-Immolation almost certainly could as well.
In the end, Unholy Cult is, as far as I know, an evolution even from its immediate predecessors, and the increased presence of consonant melodies is the most important change on this recording. Since it’s otherwise not particularly different from those, it’s hard to say whether I like it more or less than its surroundings. If you like this period of Immolation, though, you’re sure to get at least something out of this, but for me to say more would be to make unfair generalizations about you, and you wouldn’t like that, would you?
Highlights: “Unholy Cult”, “Wolf Among the Flock”, “Reluctant Messiah”
P.S: I had a review for Close To A World Below in drafting at one point, but I’ve lost track of it. It has a similarly beefy production to this, but the songwriting is closer to that on Here in After. More on that if I find the draft or just decide to start over.