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Blistering Speed + Extreme Fury = Hour of Penance’s Destructive New Album, Regicide

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Italian mainstay Hour of Penance are back with their sixth album Regicide, employing a cleverly open-to-interpretation thematic thread that vocalist/guitarist Paolo Pieri describes as such: “‘Regicide’ revolves around the themes of destruction and rebirth and the killing of the king — be he your own fears, prejudices or dogmas that you build inside yourself to cope with reality. Only by letting go of those illusions and tearing down the walls of ignorance and fear that society, religion and every form of dysfunctional authority you interjected during your life, can you start to rebuild your own path as a free man that has no need for a king.” A-fucking-men!

Having played with some of the best during their impressive career (including Behemoth, Skeletonwitch, Cannibal Corpse, The Black Dalia Murder, DevilDriver, Psycroptic, Misery Index, Deicide, Belphegor and Nile), HoP are an authoritative force in extreme death metal, and Regicide is a welcome addition to the band’s worthy canon.

After a rousing intro (entitled “Through the Triumphal Arch” — perhaps a testament to the band’s gargantuan might, every song title is in all caps) that could aptly be described as Terminator 2-style industrial clinks n’ clanks combined with a dark gothic soundtrack (peppered with Gregorian monk-esque chants that sound like outtakes from the score of a Lord of the Rings knockoff), HoP pummel your face in with a bludgeoning opening song (“Reforging the Crowns”) that leads heavily with drummer James Payne’s otherwordly chops.

However, the choice to purvey the first blastbeat of the album with 32nd note upbeats (in lieu of starting said blastbeat with the customary snare hits on the downbeat) threw me off almost immediately, creating a wonky feeling I initially had a hard time shaking.  This approach appears several times throughout Regicide, and frankly still sounds like a mistake to my ears every time, but with such a skilled drummer I knew that couldn’t be the case.  So I enlisted a drummer friend of mine to help explain what is actually happening in those peculiar-feeling rhythmic moments.  Once I knew what was going on and verified that this was an intentional technique, it became easier to overlook those instances — and plus Payne constantly switches between the off-kilter upbeats and in-the-pocket downbeats (and all sorts of additional feels for that matter, as in the opening of “Desecrated Souls”) to remind you that he’s ultimately in supreme control of his beats.

Surely some musician-y listeners will have a similar reaction as I did to the upbeat snare hits, but this is far from a deal-breaker — clearly this band/album has plenty of jewels to offer, and to play devil’s advocate with myself for a second, maybe Payne should even get credit for taking such an unorthodox approach at times.  At the end of the day, the guy can play his ass off and his drums sound fantastic.

Pieri deserves specific mention as well; his oft-doubled growls manage to stay raspy and dry while retaining a low-end rumble that could wake the long-dead.  And his (and Giulio Moschini’s) guitar playing is quite impressive as well — while the solos are effectively spaced out, when they do appear, triumphant moments are elevated to dizzying heights (the solo that deliberately drops halfway through “Resurgance of the Empire” jumps to mind as a shining example).  The riffage is phenomenal too; for example, “Spears of Sacred Doom” is among the heaviest riffing tunes on Regicide, and complemented as always by impossible drumming that will amaze you for days.

Textural elements such as the aforementioned Gregorian chanting (implemented in the album intro and the beginning of “Sealed Into Ecstasy”) and occasional atmospheric background ambience add a little pleasant diversity to the mix, but don’t get it twisted — this is no-nonsense, unfettered brutality through and through.  The HoP guys aren’t interested in re-inventing the wheel; they seem more content to race through breakneck speed riffs/beats, and are sure to drop more than a few jaws in the process.  The band plays extreme death metal that prides itself on velocity, power, and attack, but also employs semi-lulls in the right spots in order to explode back into your sternum with the force of a possessed locomotive (as done to great success in “Sealed Into Ecstasy,” for example).

The home stretch of Regicide contains some of the best songs in this collection.  After a delirious “Blackened”-ish guitar intro, “Redeemer of Atrocity” bolts into your nightmares faster than The Flash and harder than Hulk; yet another display of HoP’s ridiculous speed and strength.  Perhaps the heaviest track on an unbelievably heavy album, this is truly music to murder to.  Please bail me out when the time comes.

Title track “Regicide” offers one of the best hooks throughout, and the double donkey punch of “The Sun Worship” and “The Seas of Light” is fiery and relentless — both songs’ choruses tie for the heaviest vocal hits I’ve heard so far this year.

Album closer “Theogony” once again utilizes the 32nd note upbeats that fucked with my head so much in the first song, establishing bookends of slight confusion to an otherwise stupendous release.  It almost makes me wonder if there’s a specific reason why the album opens and closes with songs that contain moments with such a particularly disorienting feel (allbeit alongside several other comfortable feels that fit like gloves)…..is the drummer trying to tell us something?  Perhaps it’s meant to be a rhythmic symbol of the aforementioned “king” to be killed…

Upon first listen, it’s fruitless to deny the Kong-like fury portrayed by Hour of Penance.  The band shines most brightly in the more diverse moments of Regicide (which I admittedly wish there were more of), but regardless takes an oft-formulaic genre to the top of its game throughout.  If you dare go into the pit during this band’s live performance, make sure you have health insurance.

Hour of Penance’s Regicide comes out May 13 on Prosthetic Records. You can stream the track “Desecrate Souls” here and pre-order the album here.

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