IMMOLATION spawned from the same fertile New York death metal scene of the late '80s that graced us with everyone from CANNIBAL CORPSE and SUFFOCATION to INCANTATION. Like the latter band, IMMOLATION followed a different and distinct muse all their own from the beginning. They've cleaved to a path of murky, oblique, progressive DM with tortured riffs wrapped around jittering off-beat tempos. Over the years, their approach has grown ever more refined and thoughtful, even as they maintain the skronking, odd-chord ambience and the overall enveloping bleak brutality of their sound.
It's difficult to call "Majesty and Decay" a return to form, because to these ears, IMMOLATION has never really made a misstep (the positive benefit of their taking 3-5 years to release an album, I suppose). But from the outset, the relentless blasts, stomach-churning string bends and deranged soloing of "The Purge" show a band renewed, entering their third decade of existence more confident and assured than ever. The jagged, dissonant riffs of each song come together, cascading and flowing despite their clashing time signatures and feel, the end result not unlike a massive rockslide down the side of an imposing mountain. It's a constantly-shifting rumble, unstoppable in brute force, oppressive in its relentless nature.
Consider "A Glorious Epoch". It opens with a quiet, brooding riff, and while it quickly burbles over into an inexorable double-kick-driven section, the pensive, sinister quality of the initial riff is maintained even as the band unleashes its tightly-controlled chaos behind it. Later in the song, when things have picked up a bit, the rhythm riff is blocky and jolting, the drums deliberately busy and clattering, and the effect is to create an unsettling atmosphere of disquiet. It's all part of the dark alchemy IMMOLATION have perfected for so long, and it's never been more potent.
Nothing against catchy, pit-friendly mosh-part death metal or death/thrash — the more of that, the merrier. But IMMOLATION are a cut above the standard fare, a rarefied and special band whose signature licks and mournful tones create an aura no one else in extreme music can touch. You have to meet IMMOLATION partway to gain total immersion into their light-swallowing vortex; you have to embrace the odd and progressive in equal measure with the brutal and heavy. It's not for everyone; but for those who want to take that step beyond, "Majesty and Decay" is a swirling, heady concoction, guaranteed to be a transcendental experience. The best album so far of an amazing body of work, from one of our all-time most underappreciated bands.