Italy’s Hour of Penance have been on an absolute tear lately. They’ve been around since the late ‘90s, but their past two albums, The Vile Conception and Paradogma, have catapulted the band to the front of today’s technical/brutal/insane/whatever death metal scene, and it seems as though they just keep getting better. 2012’s Sedition was released after losing vocalist Francesco Paoli to fellow countrymen Fleshgod Apocalypse and a change in the guitar department, but the band’s direction couldn’t be clearer; extreme metal of the utmost quality, an unrelenting assault whose only objective is to kick your ass. Does it ever…and then some.
Upon first listen, Sedition is probably going to sound a lot like other albums that fall under the tech/brutal death metal category. There’s a guy growling/roaring incomprehensibly (spewing anti-Christian lyrics, as usual), really fast riffage, and more blast beats that you can shake a stick at. And sure, music of this caliber can be hard to get into; those riffs can be hard to pick apart at first, and drummer Simone Piras’ style is, well…a little much for all but the most numb of metalheads. It’s not an album that can be digested immediately-that, you can be sure of.
And yet, there’s something about this album. There’s something that keeps you drawn in after that first listen, something that tells you that Sedition isn’t just another random display of fret-dancing and blast-beating. It’s something that sets Hour of Penance apart from the rest of the repetitive and wanky modern death metal scene, and that will hold its listeners’ interest long enough to discover the hidden jewels that really make this album tick.
…It’s substance. You know, that undefinable “stuff” that makes an album great. It’s there on Sedition; you just don’t know it yet. As best as I can describe it, there are “levels” on this album that accomplish multiple things: the brutality on the surface to appeal to your average death metal fan (or generally angry person), the riffs (which are produced excellently) to get that fan hooked, and the technical prowess and craftsmanship beneath it all, to really make Sedition worthwhile. Hour of Penance just plain know what they’re doing, and know how to make a great death metal album, no matter what bells and whistles may be covering it up.
While there is absolutely zero filler on this album, I’ll choose “Decimate the Ancestry of the Only God” to make my point. Right off the bat, there’s that opening riff: it thunders forward like a freight train on a one-way path to hell, immediately accounting for extreme brutality over Piras’ frantic drumming. Hour of Penance could have stopped there and left the track to be one-dimensional, but no; just 30 seconds in, there’s a lead. It’s sinister, it’s confident, and it immediately changes the dynamics of the song from a straightforward headbanging-fest to something you can actually appreciate. Keep listening, and you’ll come across that same lead 3 minutes in; this time, it builds and builds, howling in agony, but over that riff, it couldn’t feel more right. Hour of Penance perfectly captures what it’s like to be both the torturer and the tortured, all in less than 5 minutes of some of the best death metal you’ll ever hear.
Of course, that’s only one track. Sedition has 9 of them (including a short intro; normally, I don’t like these, but the mood this one sets is impeccable), and they all accomplish more or less the same thing: encapsulate brutality and technicality in the perfect ratio, all while showing off the band’s artistry. This is, without a doubt, an album that will continue to grow on you; with Sedition, Hour of Penance have managed to transcend all of those silly subgenres, writing an album that fulfills everything death metal stands for, while standing as a mind-blowing piece of music in its own right. If you’re a fan of the extreme side of music, you’d be wise to pick this one up.