Released: 2015, Self-released
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Six years and one brief hiatus - thanks in part to bassist/vocalist Rigel Walshe's day job as a police officer - after their third album, Relentless, New Zealand death metal flag-bearers Dawn of Azazel are finally back to follow it up. And with the Relentless line-up of Walshe, guitarist Joe Bonnett and drummer Jeremy Suckling – second guitarist Nik Davies is a recent addition - still intact, the band pretty much pick up where they left off.
Indeed, as was the case with Relentless, Damocles was recorded at Hate Eternal mainman Erik Rutan's Mana Recording Studios in Tampa, Fla. Thus, it boasts a similar surgically precise sound, which is always a good thing given the tangled death metal web Dawn of Azazel weave, while leaving some of the raw, abrasive edges intact to give it bite.
Damocles offers a bit more in the way of dexterity and sophistication, at times echoing the grandiosity and complexity of Morbid Angel or Nile, but not, for the most part, at the loss of the snub-nosed brutality of old. “Strike First, Strike Hard, Strike Often” is the perfect opener, from a literal and figurative standpoint, surging to life in a hail of blast-beats and Walshe's Thompson submachine gun cadence and setting the tone for the rest of the album – which pretty much delivers what “Strike” promises.
“Vassalplasty” is a snarl of twisty-turny riffs and double-bass thrum. “Forever Enduring, Always Ready” replicates “Strike's” militant tone and urgency, with a few more careening time changes. The shrill, industrial-style guitaring on “Controlled Burn” recalls Voivod or Dawn's countrymen Ulcerate, though at twice the velocity. “Progeny of Pain” is similarly calamitous, adding some grinding stutter-step hooks that actually recall Slipknot – and that's not meant as a complaint.
“Irresistible Foe” and “The Odious Tides” stretch things out a bit and work more dynamics and “parts” into the mix, and tend to lack some of the focus that makes the rest of the tunes so viciously effective – especially when it comes to wrapping things ups. The shimmery outro to “Foe” and repetitively riffy conclusion to “Tides” seem tacked on for lack of a better place to put them. At nearly nine minutes, “Tarnished Gold” is even more epic – and tedious - beginning and ending in a death march that drags on for way too long. The three minutes or so of death metal insanity betwixt and between, however, is spot on.
But given that it's been a while since Dawn of Azazel released any new material, they've probably got more riffs and whatnot laying around than they know what to do with. So one can hardly blame them for trying to cram in what they can. And while too much of a good thing is just that – too much – better that, I suppose, than too little.