Released: 2009, Metal Blade Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
Man oh man, is it just me or is 2009 the best year death metal’s had in ages? With so many quality releases from both top tier bands and up and comers so early into the year, I haven’t been this jazzed about the scene in over a decade. And the hits keep on coming, as evidenced by the perennially underrated God Dethroned and their latest full length, PASSIONDALE. Don’t misread the “passion” in the title, the disc is a concept album rooted in the horrors of World War I and the battle of Passendale. War must be a popular topic for concept albums these days, but unlike Queensryche’s recent apathetic take on the subject, PASSIONDALE puts you right in the trenches with all the brutality and horror you’d expect on the front lines.
Mainman Henri Sattler has created a vivid lyrical narrative that offers both first and third person perspectives of the combat experience. PASSIONDALE is a loosely structured concept album, in that the songs carry a consistent thread from start to finish, but it doesn’t succumb to the rigidity of a specific story line. From awakening to the sounds of cannon fire, to the rats growing fat on the corpses of fallen soldiers, to the high cost of being a prisoner of war, PASSIONDALE is a history lesson with a soundtrack from hell. Musically, the album is relentless. Over the course of their 17 year history, God Dethroned has built a reputation for punishing, high velocity riffs and PASSIONDALE doesn’t veer far from that formula. The band takes some interesting twists and turns throughout the album, with some supporting keyboard emphasis and several harmonious, clean vocal performances from Sattler. It’s not gimmicky and doesn’t detract from the ferocity of the music, but rather enhances an already intense setting.
The songs are catchy and well structured. Check out “Poison Fog” with its insidiously singable chorus that eloquently describes asphyxia at the hands of mustard gas. “Under a Darkening Sky,” “Fallen Empires,” and the title track all relate key experiences on the battlefront, but are heavy and complex enough to remind you that this is indeed an honest to goodness death metal record.
Fierce, memorable, and a history lesson that’s far from preachy; PASSIONDALE delivers on all levels. War isn’t pretty and God Dethroned has done a tremendous job in conveying that fact with precise and deliberate mayhem. There’re no ballads or subtle reminiscing here; this is full on bombs exploding, limbs flying, flesh stripped on barbed wire tyranny, set to double bass blast beats and raging guitars. Add this to the growing list of must-hear releases of 2009 and buy this immediately.