When death metal began in the 80's, it was fresh and innovative. Fast forward to today and I feel as though tolerance has left metalheads wanting more than fast riffs, death growls, and blast beats. Luckily, the tree of death metal grew branches to cater for listeners craving heavy music that pushed the boundaries technically. And while the existence of technical death metal certainly isn't new, I feel that it also holds the same rules of tolerance and a need for progression in the constant dynamics of the metal community.
Hour of Penance is a group that I see as accurately representing the wave of not-your-average-death-metal music. While their earlier records were more akin to Cannibal Corpse influenced traditional death metal, the band's continual shift towards technicality nudges them into the category of modern tech-death groups like Rivers of Nihil or Psycroptic. For their seventh record, Cast the First Stone, I find it important to determine if the group has continued to expand their musical horizon in any further direction.
Opener, "Burning Bright," goes pretty damn heavy, but is mostly by the book. However, once the track reaches the half way point the band redeems itself with a delicious groove and a melting solo on the side. On the other hand, the title track goes straight for the jugular as the repeated lead guitar riff is equally brutal and memorable. Other standout points include the colossal breakdown at the end of "Iron Fist," the dynamics in "Shroud of Ashes", and pounding rhythm of "XXI Century Imperial Crusade." Giulio Moschini continues to prove himself as the most necessary and valuable member with such virtuosic solos on "Damnatio Memoriae" and "The Chains of Misdeed." Additionally, Paolo Pieri's vocal delivery is a near perfect balance of followable melody where one can latch on to the repetition of certain lines without being overly catchy.
Regarding lyrical content, it isn't the easiest to comprehend every word, but once you understand the gist of what is being told, I think there is a great amount of substance. To summarize, the group is emphasizing the violence of the Middle Ages and Crusades in comparison to our modern world with a focus on finding peace rather than pointing fingers towards who 'threw the first stone,' hence the album title. Although I value music over lyrical themes for the most part, I feel that a concept which addresses the current turmoil of terrorism, religion, and political conflict is notable and far more commendable than the vapid and typical gore themes normally shown in this genre. Overall, the group has now cemented their legitimacy as a group that can convey significant thematic concepts considering Cast the First Stone amongst past releases like Regicide or Paradogma.
Like Gorguts, Hour of Penance may have origins in straightforward death metal, but with each album they have become increasingly experimental with technique and sound design. While during some songs I found myself wishing for the proggy tidbits to develop even further, there was still plenty to enjoy amongst the chaotic riffs presented. In a way, the band's musical diversity allows for a capacity of an even broader attraction where listeners can either get off to the technically impressive parts, heaviness, or both. In conclusion, Cast the First Stone may not be all too different from their previous records, but this LP is one intellectually and musically astounding chapter in the band's catalog.