Released: 2011, Metal Blade
I'd wager that to be a close approximation of the average response upon first hearing Hate Eternal's last effort, FURY & FLAMES. Inspired by the untimely passing of former member and, by all accounts, one of Erik Rutan's best friends, Jared Anderson, the record was billed as their most emotive, only in this instance that meant delivering one of the most clinical displays of no-holds barred aural thuggery to ever be captured in a recording studio. Such was the maelstrom of carnage that ensued from the disc's opening seconds that Rutan's virtuoso guitar work was virtually drowning beneath a barrage of endless blasts; quite an accomplishment in one sense, but certainly one that didn't leave room for much in the way of actual, memorable songs.
Mercifully PHOENIX AMONGST THE ASHES opts for a decidedly different tact, returning to the bountiful creative plains of 2005's I, MONARCH where crafting distinct tunes seemed to be more of a priority for the band than it had been previously. Here a densely proportioned introduction stirs their fifth full length into life, but it's when "The Eternal Ruler" shreds its way through the wall of discordance that business really picks up. The sprinting pace that's become a Hate Eternal signature forms the track's backbone, but it's packaged in the sort of stellar death metal riffing that elevated albums like BLESSED ARE THE SICK to timeless classics. "Thorns of Acacia" follows suit, and what's particularly evident here is Rutan's melodic flair, which he taps into sparingly, but when he does the results are spectacular. "Haunting Unbound" is a slower, brooding effort, kicking off in the vein of Morbid Angel's "Where The Slime Live", before mutating into something altogether more sinister around it's third minute.
That this record is death metal perfection really hits home amid the final salvo of "Lake Ablaze" where oscillating blast beats and mid-tempo groove show off not only drummer, Jade Simonetto's technical dexterity, but also features one of the finest guitar solos that Erik has ever laid down. And while he may have acted as a producer on their forthcoming album, it wouldn't surprise me if deep down Rutan felt as though PHOENIX AMONGST THE ASHES had to throw the gauntlet down to Morbid Angel on some level. Forty minutes later and there's little doubting that the bar has been raised - massively.