Released: 2017, Unique Leader Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Despite their considerable chops, the latest outing from Northern California tech-deathsters The Kennedy Veil has an unusually disarming, almost easy-going approach that makes the band's bluster seem more refined than it actually may be. Rather than delivering the usual flash, ridiculous velocities and utter bombast, Imperium is, comparatively, understated – save for the phenomenal drum work of Gabe Seeber - and offers more feel and depth, with an intensity that simmers rather than boiling over.
It's an intriguing strategy to be sure, especially since the band recruited Monte Barnard, ex-of Alterbeast and a live fill-in for Thy Art Is Murder and Fallujah, who is about as caustic a vocalist as there is, to sing here – making him their third vocalist in three albums. But instead of trying to match the savagery of Barnard's burly growls and shrieks, the band provide him with a platform to provide the bulk of the brutality, which he certainly does – with a helping hand at times from The Black Dahlia Murder's Trevor Strnad, Aborted's Sven de Caluwé and Dickie Allen of Infant Annihilator. And this after 2014's rather pummeling Trinity of Falsehood, which delivered its 11 songs in 33 minutes.
Nevertheless, the approach works rather well. The longer, less furious songs – eight here over 40 minutes – allow more room to breathe and give guitarist Casey Childers a chance to add texture and nuance instead of merely trying to keep up, especially on more progressive-minded tunes like “Dawning of Wrathful Deities.” Though his work here is certainly agile, it never feels like just a flurry of notes or riffs following Seeber's scatter-gun tempos as they dart hither and yon.
Even ominous sounding numbers like the opener “Godslaughter” or the epic “Hunted Into Extinction” offer nifty hooks and nimble runs that are cloaked in melody and nicely contrast both Barnard's flame-throwing vocals and Seeber drum fusillades. The synths and strings that come and go in the background add a level of symphonic sophistication without really seeming intrusive – even if they aren't particularly necessary.
Producer Zach Ohren, a tech-death go-to who has been knocked in the past for the loudness factor of his work, does a fine job here of balancing dexterity and atmosphere. Indeed, if anything, Imperium sounds a bit slick. But given the heavy-handedness one has come to expect with this sort of music, something not so calamitous is certainly welcome. The presentation here matches well with the band's performance, and everyone comes out better for it in the end.