Six years is a long time to wait between freshman and sophomore albums; especially when the freshman album is one of the best death metal releases of the past ten years. 2008's Graves of the Archangels certainly holds up to repeated listenings, but you can only revisit an album, especially a great one, so many times before you start hungering for new music. Dead Congregation left their fans to languish in the wilderness of mediocre death metal for a long time, but now they're back with Promulgation of the Fall.
On Graves of the Archangels, Greece's Dead Congregation did everything right. The band wasn't making the most original music – their debut was Immolation and Incantation worshiping death metal with some old school Swedeath influence – but what they lacked in originality they more than made up for in execution and quality of product. Now, with Promulgation of the Fall, the band has released a follow-up album that improves on their debut in every way possible.
One of Dead Congregation's strongest attributes is their ability to balance technical prowess with a suitably sinister atmosphere. Too many bands focus solely on one or the other and end up sounding either masturbatory or impenetrably murky in the process, but Dead Congregation do an excellent job at writing songs that demonstrate their formidable musical ability while also sounding legitimately frightening. This ability, more than anything else, is what sets the band apart from the sea of also-rans that makes up the modern death metal landscape. It's also what should guarantee Promulgation of the Fall a place on any metal writer's 2014 Best Of list.
Creating an album this complex while still managing to make it entertaining to listen to isn't something that can be done accidentally. Right from the start it's obvious that the members of the band knew exactly what they were doing and that they had a clear vision of how to accomplish their artistic goals. Tempos frequently switch from a traditional death metal gallop to a doomy trudge and back again during songs, but these time changes don't sound clumsy or forced. Thanks to to metronomic drumming of Vagelis Voyiantzis, the rest of the band members had a steady rhythmic backbone to keep each song from flying off the rails while they toyed with the music's tempo. The composition of the guitar parts are equally thoughtful. There are plenty of solos, but none are needlessly complex or over-long. There's also an abundance of pinch harmonics in place, but they're smartly employed and serve to enhance the music rather than simply demonstrate the guitarists' mastery of the technique. Musically, there's a place for everything on Promulgation of the Fall, and everything's in its place.
Solid song composition is good in and of itself, but, on this album, it also serves to enhance the menacing atmosphere of the music. The constant tempo changes and pulverizing drums keep the listener disoriented while the aforementioned pinch harmonics periodically launch out of the sonic maelstrom to stab at you. Anastasis Valtsanis's vocals also lend an unsettling air to the music. He employs the same low death growl throughout the album, but it's not so low as to become comical. His vocals are also mixed far enough up in each song that he's still somewhat understandable while howling about Satan and eternal torment.
Listening to this album is similar in experience to watching a truly frightening horror film; you have an idea of what to expect going in, but their are still enough surprises to catch you off guard. Promulgation of the Fall is everything good death metal should be. It's savage, extreme, and technically proficient, but, above all, this is a unsettling record. Try listening alone in the dark with your headphones cranked up.