Music has the capacity to awaken in us dimensions of perception previously unknown to us, to render in our minds shapes and colours and textures whose beauty cannot be correctly expressed in words or in physical space. Music can take us through beyond the spectrum of joy and sadness to the point where emotions coalesce in seemingly contradictory fashion, allowing us a glimpse into primal consciousness where feelings are free of the narrow definitional constraints our language imposes upon them. In my life, I have been privileged on occasion to find compositions that have awakened in me this elevated awareness and been more profoundly grateful for the opportunity than I can say.
Even so, there are some days where all of that highfalutin’ nonsense seems like too much effort and I just want music that kicks me in the face eight-hundred times and stomps off, leaving me bleeding on the side of the road. For those occasions, I have bands like Hour of Penance.
Although they have recently been overshadowed to some extent by Fleshgod Apocalypse, the symphonic spin-off act founded by former member Francesco Paoli, Hour of Penance are credited with the emergence on the international stage of Italy’s death metal scene thanks to their comprehensive and robust (if not particularly surprising) take on the genre, residing at the point where technical and brutal death metal intersect (see also: Decapitated, Nile, Psycroptic). Their previous outing “Sedition” from 2012 took the wall of sound approach to songwriting to a somewhat absurd extent in tracks like “Decimate the Ancestry of the Only God,” burying the listener under screeds and screeds of blastbeats unto the death of all nuance. Thankfully, they’ve dialled things back ever so slightly for “Regicide,” enough so that some amount of dynamism and modulation of pace is allowed in (tracks like “Resurgence of the Empire” and the “The Seas of Light” shift gears to a slightly slower burn, for instance), although “dialled back” is quite strictly a relative term here – skip to any point of any given track and it’s a safe bet that blastbeats will be happening, and that they will be copious.
The ingredients that make up “Regicide” will be familiar to any death metal listener. Paolo Pieri and Giulio Moschini’s heavily distorted, downtuned guitars rapidly negotiate finger-twisting patterns of spiky minor key riffs, interspersed with undulating sections of finger tapping and the occasional skin-flaying solo or skull-crushing breakdown.
The complexity of the musicianship here isn’t to be sneered at, but Hour of Penance mostly avoid the flatulent, noodly trem-picking excesses of their contemporaries like Origin and Spawn of Possession to pursue a relentless, hammering groove. In places the band deploy tactics intended to evoke a sense of scale and sepulchral awe in keeping with their visual motif of religious desecration, such as the ominous chanting in intro “Through the Triumphal Arch” and at the beginning of “Sealed Into Ecstacy,” but they occur as token and pretty much negligible.
Pieri’s genre-standard cookie-monster bellow and drummer James Payne’s incessant blasting and double-kick (the shrill tick-tick-tick-tick-tick of his patently triggered snare drum becomes irksome at points) complete the band’s edifice of bludgeoning brutality.
Though the guitars burn their way through an enormous catalogue of techniques over the course of “Regicide,” the impression left in their wake is one of uniformity and flatness – everything turned up to eleven, all the time, to the point of the individual tracks being virtually interchangeable. There is, of course, a school of thought that says this style of metal ought to be gruelling, an endurance test for the listener that dares them to weather the force of oppressive, unremitting malevolence and emerge from it shaken and overwhelmed. No-one can fault Hour of Penance for their savagery or claim that they offer the listener any melodic acquiescence, which bespeaks a certain integrity on their part. The musicianship is technically impeccable and each member of the quartet fulfils their given role in the assault with fervent and unflagging ferocity. For what it’s worth, Hour of Penance are surely one of the heaviest bands in the world (though I can’t make that statement categorically – there’s a lot of very heavy death metal out there, probably more than can be catalogued and ranked by heavitude in one lifetime).
Still though, there’s a fine line between gruelling and numbing, and the longer I listen to “Regicide,” the less it evokes the impression of enormous mass and overwhelming, malevolent power. The onslaught that initially seems intimidating in its violence begins to feel more like repetitious, artless noisemongering. Perhaps I’m mellowing out as I get older and the relentless darkness and bleakness of death metal don’t hold the same allure for me as they did in my teenage years. On the other hand, I was more than a little taken with Behemoth’s new record and its richness and depth only a couple of months ago, so perhaps my relative indifference here isn’t down to my own incompatibility as a listener after all. There is, nevertheless, a certain appeal to subjecting oneself to sensory assault, within limits. Certainly, I can listen to “Regicide” in short bursts and be impressed by its density and unwavering focus, even if it’s appeal wavers after an album’s worth (particularly after a 50-minute album’s worth, if you’re listening to the limited edition, which I was). I don’t know if I could recommend it as a staple of one’s musical diet however – even the most dedicated metal fan needs to take it down a notch now and then.
01) Through the Triumphal Arch
02) Reforging the Crowns
03) Desecrated Souls
04) Resurgence of the Empire
05) Spears of Sacred Doom
06) Sealed Into Ecstacy
07) Redeemer of Atrocity
09) The Sun Worship
10) The Seas of Light
12) The Uncorrupted Ones
13) Frail as the Flesh of Christ
14) Monarch of Heresy