Everyone’s favorite Scandinavian blackened death metal band from Illinois (Missouri) is back with their fourth full-length release that is chock full of their characteristic pounding drums and driving riffs with a few surprises thrown in for good measure.
For those not in the know, A Hill to Die Upon, despite the Scandinavian black/death metal sound, actually originated in central Illinois. In 2008, the band recorded a demo and were signed to Bombworks Records and in 2009 released Infinite Titanic Immortal . Omens (2011)was the second release by the band and had a darker feel to it, which some critics liked more than others, but due to the overall strength of the album, even those who were not enthusiastic about it, still rated it highly. The recording of the the band’s third album Holy Despair was fraught with challenges unlike the 8 day process for Omens as Adam Cook’s basement studio flooded, delaying things several months. In the end, Holy Despair (2014) was also met with critical acclaim. In addition to the critical acclaim for the studio work, the band is equally impressive live, especially with the impact the corpse paint brings to the overall feeling as the band seeks to “engage as many of the senses as possible” according to Michael in an interview for HM magazine. The band has played a variety of festivals over the years including the mighty Cornerstone Festival (several times), Destruction Fest in London, Elements of Rock, and Nordic Fest as well as sharing the band with many legendary and notorious bands, including recently sharing the stage with Deicide, a band directly opposed to Christian beliefs of AHTDU band members. For Via Artis Via Mortis, the band signed to Luxor Records, Adam Cook and Nolan Osmond handled the recording while Joseph Calliero took care of the mixing and mastering.
Normally, instrumental openings tend to bother me a bit, but AHTDU have crafted one in “Melpomene and Thalia” that simply works well to introduce the album. A chiming guitar starts things off with a bit of an ominous drum rhythm and then the other guitar comes in over the top. To me, this seems like an intro you would get for a live show, so it works. As the intro track fades, the first single “Jubal and Syrinx” comes in somewhat quietly an similar to the first track but the roars into a much louder level when the vocals come in and the track picks up. Adam Cook’s blackened, death metal raspy growls are as good as ever and have a bit of an authoritative air to them in the mix, which really works well. R. Michael Cook’s drums are clearly heard in the mix and those who have heard AHTDU before know what a good thing that is. New guitarist Nolan Osmond adds a bit of a new dimension to the overall sound with this guitar as well.
“Artifice Intelligence” starts out very much not like a blackened death metal song. A simple driving rough edged guitar riff and pounding drum beat start out the track before pausing and the rest of the band joining in. When they full band comes in, one can appreciate the whole rhythm section as the bass does tend to get overlooked in this genre, but hearing things with and without, one can fully appreciate the contribution to the overall sound from Brent Dossett’s bass. This song though is all about that edgy toned guitar riff and also the solo that closes out the track.
As if that beginning wasn’t enough, the band brings in some keyboard effects for the Sorcery and Sudden Vengeance, that are also a bit unexpected. This song shifts more toward the atmospheric black metal end of the spectrum but does again bring is some guitar part that move the needle away from that. Blast beat also make a noticeable appearance in this song, and it is a bit unexpected given the genre that it too this long into the album to note them. This simple observation combined with earlier ones about the guitars though do show that AHTDU are not staying confined by their genre and are bringing in new elements as they forge their own sound.
After “I was there…” and “Great is Artemis”, the listener becomes used to the intro sections of the songs being a bit unexpected and the song itself being more of what would be expected in terms of overall sound. Even thought the intro sections do seem a bit different, they manage to work within the overall songs. In contrast, “The Garden” starts out in full blast beat mode with the droning guitars before shifting to a more melodic but driving rhythm. Interestingly, the main guitar riffs almost have a classic rock feel and structure to them and almost as if they were influenced by the country/Southern rock side project drummer Michael Cook is in (the Comancheros). This element to their sound definitely provides a new view on the genre and combined with the overall guitar tone, the blackened/death vocals, and blast beats/double bass drumming seems as if it was always this way. This becomes most apparent in the beginning of “Mosin Nagant” which has a riff that honestly reminds me a bit of something from Ratt, but with an edgier/more abrasive tone that is nicely set off by Cook’s rapid fire bass drumming that comes and goes throughout the song.
AHTDU have managed to carve out a bit of niche within blackened death metal. While many of the traditional sounds of blast beats and droning guitars are present, they are not the foundation or backbone of the songs. The band has created a soundscape that is at once new and yet still familiar to those looking in on the genre, and this subtle shift adds new intensity to their sound, while the arrangements and songcraft grab the listener and don’t let go.
Written by John Jackson
1, Melpomene and Thalia 1:21
2. Jubal and Syrinx 4:52
3. Artifice Intelligence 3:33
4. Sorcery and Sudden Vengeance 4:04
5. “I Was There When You Went Under the Water” 4:11
6. Great Is Artemis of the Ephesians. 4:59
7. The Garden 4:34
8. Mosin Nagant 4:08
9. St. Cocaine 5:22
Adam Cook – Guitars, vocals
R. Michael Cook – Drums, vocals
Nolan Osmond – Guitars
Brent Dossett – Bass
Record Label: Luxor Records, Sept. 2017
Video for ‘Jubal and Syrinx’