IMPERIUM – Titanomachy

imperiumFormed by ex-members of Trigger The Bloodshed and The Bridal Procession, Imperium came together in 2010 to unleash a brand of tech-death metal upon the world. A debut album quickly followed, but their momentum was then shattered by a huge split, leaving only guitarist Mike Alexander to pick up the pieces. A new band was formed around Alexander in 2015 and ‘Titanomachy’ presents the first fruits of the rejuvenated line-up.

‘Beast From Beneath’ is a number which best captures their core sound. The drums are hammered at blazing speed, almost as if they’ve hired a man with three legs to occupy the stool, while the shredding guitars take up a similar, almost grinding mentality – resulting in a sound that borrows heavily from the classic bands of yore. A guttural growl passes as a vocal, thus increasing the intensity. It’s only on the moments when Alexander braves breaking away from the cacophony of sounds to break into some lead guitar work that listeners are given a sense that Imperium could be a little broader than most death bands. Dropping in a few classic metal runs and the odd vibrato wail, he adds a necessary flair of melody to the roaring and speedy metallic juggernaut; though far too briefly. As soon as he appears to branch out, he slunks back into the riffs, as if he’s unsure of actually stretching the band’s boundaries. ‘Castrate The Father of The Sky’ repeats this musical formula, but adds a slow and brooding intro – appropriated from any number of old Jeff Hanneman compositions you’d care to pick – and is less impressive. Even the presence of what sounds like a dual vocal performance – part traditional death grunts, part black metal harshness – doesn’t quite reach full potential. Once more, the high point comes from two lead guitar breaks, both chock full blistering runs, topped with impressive squeals. With these moments and a slow chugging riff to close, it seems there’s more going on than first appears. There’s power, heaviness and scope beyond the blinding speed, but obviously, for all but the more devoted death metal fanatic, in the main, it really won’t be enough to persevere with ‘Titanomachy’ any further.

‘Skies That Bear Thunder’ churns a very impressive, almost doomy riff that’s given a sharp jolt by a couple of thrash interjections, overlaid by some of the album’s finest lead guitar, presenting almost Malmsteen-esque arpeggios, but it’s only really an intro to ‘Phlegethon Rising’ which quickly returns Imperium to well inside their comfort zone. The backdrop presents more (mostly) by-numbers death metal antics, but Alexander does his best to twist them into new sounds with the addition of some atonal harmonics. This might work well, if not for an especially obtrusive vocal, deeper and even more guttural than before. Elsewhere, ‘Descend Abysmal Void’ tries hard but never escapes utter predictability, despite occasional flourishes of grindcore pounding to increase the anger; ‘Neither Gods or Men’ opens with a very melodic, clean intro – leaning towards an almost cinematic and eastern flair – before filling the next three minutes with throat-clearing and road-drills. A pity, since, again, some of the more technical aspects of the guitar work deserve to be heard somewhere better than this, while the title track promises so much with an atmospheric intro, but then fills the better part of six minutes with a repetitive shredding riff. As is so often the case, a decent guitar solo lifts the mood briefly, but it’s just not enough.

While this album tries really hard but doesn’t always work, it still comes with a couple of genuine high spots. ‘The Unseen One’ begins with a broader riff, almost with another leaning towards eastern tones, over which Alexander plays a belter of a lead. Not so far removed from the most extreme moments of Slayer’s ‘Hell Awaits’ LP, this could be great. …And then the pneumatic onslaught starts and things quickly fall into a massive blur of speed and aggression, making it an ever more marginal listen. Try and stick with it, though: in the second half, a superb squealing guitar solo provides some great entertainment, before the presence of a couple of breakdowns suggest leanings towards a more progressive sound. If that’s not enough, a closing instrumental section strikes a perfect balance between death and classic thrash. The album’s clear standout, meanwhile, ‘Minos’ has a little bit of everything. A mid paced intro allows the guitars to set the scene with a riff that’s straight from the late 80s San Fran thrash scene, before that gets pepped up by some very techy prog metal tones. Shifting into the first verse, the death metal aspects firmly take over, but these are constantly challenged by an off-kilter progressive sharpness, like Symphony X taken to frightening extremes. A top-notch guitar solo ups the ante, before the band drop into a rock solid metal riff that’s accompanied by a repeated refrain (presenting some almost audible lyrics) and eventually moves the track into high gear for the big finish – two more virtuously played solos and the reintroduction of the interesting opening riff, thus bringing everything full circle. If the rest of the album showed this much imagination, Imperium would have been onto a winner.

In death metal terms – technical or not – beyond the brilliant ‘Minos’ and a couple of other tracks, Imperium really don’t seem to offer much that’s particularly different from a whole slew of bands out there. Their anger, speed and technical abilities are absolutely without question, but faced with a dozen tracks that rarely deviate from a full-scale, particularly brutal and pneumatic assault, it can be hard going. There are a few worthy tracks to be cherry-picked, but the whole picture could have done with a bit more variety, especially if Imperium were looking to set themselves apart from the crowd.

March 2016