By Francisco Zamudio
It has always troubled me to hear a band regress or downgrade to a mainstream sound for sake of being commercial. Death metal is very rarely ever an example of music that takes that route. But many dip their fingers into the mainstream, and rarely return. I’d favor this professional move if more of the mainstream listeners would be brave enough to listen to more extreme music. Enter Hour of Penance from Italy with their seventh full length effort, ‘Cast the First Stone’ (Prosthetic Records). The band has been around a good minute and favoring their best, ‘The Vile Conception’ (2008) and ‘Paradogma’ (2010) along with drumming contribution of “Brutal Dave” Billia (Xenomorphic Contamination, Beheaded, Septycal Gorge, and more), I was certainly interested to hear how far they’ve come.Along with this semi-new line-up, headed by Paolo Pieri (vocals/guitar) and Giulio Moschini (guitar) is the return of Marco Mastrobuono (bass) who did a great job engineering, mixing and mastering the album.
Yes, mainstream isn’t always considered a negative term and here I use it to describe the drift that Hour Of Penance is putting out on this album that is wrought with extremely catchy riffs. You tend to notice the technical feel and incorporating more core-like breakdowns to their sound, such as the case with the title track. The first minute you forget you’re listening to a death metal record but that tune takes a good upswing, but then brings you back down. In contrast, the track ‘Burning Bright’ captures the brutality I associate HoP with. But then, a track like ‘Damnatio Memoriae’ is misleading, as a new listener who might not be too aware of who this brilliant band is, wouldn’t know how much better they are than this, as this track has a lot of that core sound which they dip into a small handful of times throughout this album.
While purists might see this as a drawback, you hope this grabs and rips the ear off of the mainstream listener to do themselves a favor and travel back into band’s discography to get a better idea of how Hour of Penance has developed in not only their sound but line-up over the past 10-plus years. The diversity in style on ‘Cast the First Stone’ will reach new fans and will still entertain long-time fans as it comes with what you’d expect from the band. HoP have gone from the brutal death metal feel to a more open and technical sound over the last couple of releases, and listening to foreign death metal bands is really refreshing in a time when American mainstream can easily further taint the metal market to sour ends, but then you get those exceptions and a group of guys from Italy that use it to their advantage as it adapts to part of their style. Hell, they even get a little symphonic.
A couple of highlights beyond the diverse and great songwriting is Billia’s drum work which demands a lot of back-and-forth from groove and breakdown oriented playing, to the speed infused blasts, like on the track ‘The Chains of Misdeed’. He certainly adds some flavor such as that demonstrated on tracks like ‘Horn of Flies’ and ‘Shroud of Ashes’. Another thing to point out is how welcomed it was to hear some soloing sprinkled in randomly on the album.
So, throughout these nine tracks at just over a half-hour, you’re either pleased with the diversity of the album or you’re at least wishing there was more. At least for me, the latter was the case. I sought more of the brutal sound I first became familiar with about this band and could have done without the core and mainstream feel in had in too many spots. That said, it is all well put together, and again, all engineered really well. The sound is great and is not over-polished like much of today’s music. I hope new listeners of the band will explore their prior releases and look into the bands whose influence is obvious in Hour of Penance’s music. This album has a great dynamic that should reach not only death metal fans, but metal fans in general, since it has something for everyone.
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Record Label: Prosthetic
Release Date: January 27th 2017
1. XXI Century Imperial Crusade
2. Cast The First Stone
3. Burning Bright
4. Iron Fist
5. The Chains of Misdeed
6. Horn of Flies
7. Shroud of Ashes
8. Wall of Cohorts
9. Damnatio Memoriae