Review by Raphaël on April 1, 2023.
I have been following Allegaeon since 2010, when they released their first album: Fragments Of Form And Function, on Metal Blade Records. I was instantly a fan of their highly technical, yet super melodic sound. They had quite a few line up changes throughout the years but Greg Burgess is the only original member still in the band and I feel like no matter the changes, he has been the connective tissue that made Allegaeon who they are. After the release of Damnum, the band announced they were parting ways with vocalist Riley McShane, who provided vocals since Proponent For Sentience. It’s a real shame because he really shines brighter than a hot giant ball of gas collapsing in on itself, maintained by the constant nuclear fusion in its core. I can say with confidence that this is the most ambitious and musically diverse album the band ever did.
Damnum starts with the song 'Bastards Of The Earth', which has a beautiful classical acoustic guitar intro. Nevertheless, it doesn’t stay calm for a long time, after a few seconds, they immediately erect a bombastic wall of sound, with every instrument in full gear, from the blast beats to the chunky guitar riff and the long, deep scream/growl of Riley. Everything hits you in the face perfectly, like any metal fan likes. After the middle mark, there is a beautiful break, with the signature classical guitar of Greg. Furthermore, not only is the music brilliant on this album, but the lyrical content should also be highlighted. Instead of focusing mainly on science and science fiction, like on their previous albums, they get a lot more personal and philosophical. While still having a little bit of those elements in. On 'Bastards Of The Earth', for example, we have these lines: “Thrust into a world akin to darkness, ruptured by the sun.” and “A spinning wheel that spells disaster - the circle growing deeper every day.” The world of darkness ruptured by the sun is obviously the world we live in today and I see the spinning wheel as a metaphor for our current capitalist system that gave us global warming and the disasters that it causes and will continue to cause.
This song, like all the other songs on this album, has a real proggy feel to it. What I mean by that is that almost every song is over five minutes long and they don’t necessarily have a traditional verse chorus verse chorus structure. Nevertheless, in true technical death metal fashion, there is so much solos everywhere. They definitely do not disappoint on that end. Rather than focusing only on the technical abilities, Greg Burgess is as much technical as he is melodic in his playing. I think he writes most of the music, but on Damnum, every member participated in the writing process, which sprinkles a lot of new and different ideas everywhere. A few examples would be the classical guitars, which is not a new idea for them, but is featured a lot more on this album. Greg is an incredible guitarist on both electric and classical guitars. Another example would be the beautiful and epic sounding piano solo on the song 'Blight' or the classical prog rock organs playing in the background in the beginning of 'Of Beasts And Worms', or the classical guitars mixed with a tam tam rhythm on the song 'To Carry My Grief Through Torpor And Silence' etc. You get the idea.
'Of Beasts And Worms' has the most catchy chorus of all of the album. Here, Riley McShane’s clean vocals are on full display. In the last two albums, we had a little taste of his beautiful clean vocals but never to this degree. His voice is so clear and pure, when he goes for higher notes, singing:” This is the place where I rest my bones and the river that cleanses me runs alone. To be there again where my spirit longs and sleep in the soil forevermore”, it gives me chills every time! I think these lyrics could be interpretated as someone who gives up fighting. I feel like these lyrics are more mature and darker, abording real subject matters. Musically, it feels almost as if Mikael Åkerfeldt himself wrote the song: the quieter clean guitars, the rock organs with a soft, spoken words section. (Spoiler alert, it is not the only time Opeth is a clear inspiration on this album.)
Without a doubt, the most Opeth sounding part on the album is on the song 'Called Home'. It starts with a beautiful classical guitar picking and after a while, the drum beat starts slowly. I don’t know who made the recording and the mixing, but it is masterfully done! Everything sounds clean, but completely organic at the same time. We also get a bit of Gojira influences here and there. On the song 'Blight' for example, it starts as a heavy technical death metal riff and drum patterns, but they add the signature “Gojira slide” here and there, which is a cool little musical easter egg. This has also a beautiful and quite long piano solo. It sounds like a grand piano, which makes the whole thing sound even more majestic!
I think I could go on and on talking about this album. After all, it was my favorite album of 2022 for a good reason. There are so much little things you don’t necessarily hear during your first listens. For example, on 'In Mourning', they adjusted the noisegate so that you can hear Greg’s breathing while he plays guitar. That subtle touch is just one example of how meticulously crafted everything is. For a few years, it was evident that Allegaeon was going more and more on the prog side, with their many Rush covers, but on Damnum, they really nailed the mix of progressive, technical and melodic death metal blend. I can’t wait to see what they will offer next!
Rating: 10 out of 10434