HATRED REIGNS – Awaken The Ancients

Released five years after their well received ‘Realm I: Affection’ EP, Canadian death metallers Hatred Reigns’ ‘Awaken The Ancients’ is a full length, full throttle, intensive slab of brutality that genre fans won’t want to miss. In a little over half an hour, the band shares a speed driven approach that shares strong DNA with a few of the greats. Drawing from the pioneering works of Suffocation and Death, through to the more technical aspects of bands like Imperium, and even taking in the death/thrash crossover sound of early Sepultura in a few places, the eleven tracks convey a huge sound that reminds the listener why well played death remains so vital. However, beneath the relentless rhythmic assault and oppressive vocal stance, you’ll also experience musicianship which explores deep textures and tautly played solos that rank among some of the underground’s best.

The title track starts brilliantly via the combination of a horror sample and a couple of stop/start riffs that instantly call back to ‘Schizophrenia’ era Sepultura. Then, rather predictably, the verse explodes into a massive death metal rumble where the intensive pneumatic drumming from classic Suffocation meets with extreme thrash. Add in the guttural roar of a vocal, and it has all the elements you’d hope to find, but in between the sheer bluster, there are actually some really well arranged moments to give a vital balance. The first shift away from the pneumatic sound offers a nod to classic thrash, showing off a great tone from Jeff Calder, who later steps out of the noise to share an equally impressive solo, where his lightning fast fretboard mangling is offset by a slightly atonal approach. Later on, the thrash/death hybrid falls away to share a devastating deep bass, delivering a massive hardcore grind, and the way bigger chords are dropped in intermittently during a huge climax really sells a band able to deliver a huge, extreme metal sound.

That sets up the rest of the record perfectly, and although ‘Awaken The Ancients’ doesn’t offer too many dramatic turns or huge surprises, every track remains a near perfect display of tech-death prowess. ‘Pain Leads To Nothingness’ is actually much better as the pure death verses are interspersed with dirty riffs that mix the extreme thrash of Kreator with a groove metal tone. It’s a move that further demonstrates Calder as a player with a great range – at least within his chosen niche – and these moments really help to give Mitchi Dimitriadis more scope within a performance that leans very heavily on a traditional death metal vocal. Occasionally the death grunts rise into a throat caning screech that’s closer to black metal or extreme hardcore, and these flourishes also add something extra to the palate, even if they’re never concerned with melody. There’s another deep bass grind which leads into an uncompromising hardcore breakdown, which shows how the band have taken a great amount of care in ensuring the arrangements are a cut above hacked out death metal. A pure death metal blast wraps everything up, sliding effortlessly into ‘To Depths Unknown’ which takes the core of their death metal sound and speeds it up by about thirty percent. The early parts of the track are so extreme they can be hard to take, and elsewhere, the sound of drum triggers assaults the ears in the best possible way. Assuming you can make it through the first ninety seconds, the close of the short track actually shares some of the album’s best music when the band opt for a very progressive take on a death sound, working some very off-kilter time signatures that shows off Neil Grandy’s drumming with a truly impressive precision.

Equally short, but stylistically very different, ‘Obsolarium’ applies almost tribal like drumming beneath a slow, melodic guitar part. It’s possible to hear far more of the band’s love for Sepultura coming through here, and the shift into more tuneful climes allows for a welcome breather. At the halfway mark, the expected death metal returns, but the bigger guitar melodies often lurk beneath the surface to provide a strong balance of accessible metal and absolute brutality. It’s one of those tracks that feels like it sells itself a little too short, but then again, a bigger concession to those guitar melodies might’ve derailed the middle of the album completely. Another highlight, ‘Absentia’ latches onto more of a thrash metal tempo, with more melody creeping through some of the drum work. At its most extreme, the instrumental bridges fuse death metal grooves with a layer of sound that almost has an Eastern flair – vaguely reminiscent of Akenhaten’s best work – but, as before, any pure anger is balanced by a few interesting twists. Here, you’ll find more top grade thrash, and another massive bass riff from Adam Semler, showing how much weight he brings to the table even if he’s not always the most audible member of the band.

Elsewhere, ‘Ushered By Charon’ explores even more pneumatics and classic death vocals in tandem, on a ferocious five minute workout that’s more of an endurance, and ‘Planes Divide’ shares another slab of technical death, but it’s nice to hear a couple of bridges working some extreme thrash and an intro that, bizarrely, comes across like a riff from Iron Maiden’s ‘Powerslave’ LP put through the mangle. In closing, ‘Departing Alcheron’ offers plenty more death metal tropes, but those keeping a closer ear will certainly be impressed by a few of the stranger noises coming from Calder’s guitar between the intensive pneumatics, whilst a more casual listener might feel rather more drawn to the track’s slower, heavier intro, where the strains of early Slayer can be found doing some very heavy lifting…

In the band’s own words, this album is “an infernal symphony of brutality and precision…a testament to the raw power and intricate craftsmanship that defines death metal”, and honestly, it’s very hard to argue with that. When ‘Awaken The Ancients’ really hits its mark, it does so with such immense power, it’s genuinely impressive. Even when it comes closer to going through the death metal motions, the band’s sheer tightness and love for the genre is more than obvious. Even with a couple of forays into progressive death, this is a slab of high density, very technical death metal that fans will love. It stands no chance of appealing to anyone else, but then again, Hatred Reigns probably would expect that to be the case. In aiming squarely at their target audience, they deliver a superb album that knows exactly what it is. It’s hard going in places, but in genre terms, you’d be hard pressed to find a much better record.

November 2023