Hour Of Penance - Devotion

Artist: Hour Of Penance

Album Title: Devotion

Label: Agonia Records

Date of Release: 5 April 2024

Yeck, yuck, and thrice yuck. The AI debate will rage on and on for months, years, maybe decades. Who knows where the subject will end. But, in 2024, I am one of the music fans in the camp that does not like the effect of AI on the music industry. And the cover artwork for this album, the latest from Hour Of Penance goes some way to explaining why. I mean, look at it. It’s hideous. I look around my house at the band artwork I have framed, and it’s wonderful. Everything from Shadow Gallery’s ‘Room V’ by Rainer Kalwitz to Dan Goldsworthy’s latest work for Haken’s ‘Fauna’, and the plethora of Mattias Norén-created Evergrey images. They are marvellous and bring me joy frequently. And then you get a computer that puts together some abomination like this. It sucks.

I understand that there will be a number of reasons why bands may choose to go down the AI route, and the narrative is never truly black and white. But, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a worrying trend that I wish would go away, and quickly. It won’t, of that, there is no doubt, unless enough people take a stand. Even then, it may not be enough, sadly.

From my perspective, then, Italy’s technical death metal unit Hour Of Penance have not got off to a great start with their ninth album and their first in five years, ‘Devotion’. Enough of that, though, because I have made my feelings clear and it’s to the music that I must now turn.

Sadly, on that score, Hour Of Penance don’t hit a home run either, at least not for me at any rate. When it comes to extreme metal, I need some kind of hook to pull me in. Maybe it’s a gnarly, dirty riff-fest, or there’s a filthy groove, or some smattering of melody here or there. Particularly when faced with technical death metal, I want something that doesn’t just boggle my brain and leave me feeling dizzy. What we have here on ‘Devotion’, is an album chock full of brutal, uncompromising, and technically adept death metal. But, as far as I’m concerned, it falls between several stools, and doesn’t wow me like others. The production doesn’t help either, because it’s neither raw enough, or polished enough; again, it falls between the cracks.

This year alone, we’ve had new material from the likes of Exocrine, Persefone, and Vitriol, all of which are different variations within a theme and which I’ve either loved or really liked. And the reason is because they all displayed something other than sheer technicality and brutality. Melody, groove, memorable songwriting, sufficient variety; it was all present and correct. That’s not the case here with ‘Devotion’, though, as the ten songs just batter and bruise the listener, without offering anything that stands out to me as a ‘woah’ moment, or which grows with repeated, stubborn listens. I wish it did because then this review would have been more fun to write.

Hour Of Penance - Devotion

I’m not for one second decrying the ability of Hour Of Penance. Guitarists Giulio Moschini and Paolo Pieri, bassist Marco Mastrobuono, and new drummer Giacomo Torti are all incredibly skilled musicians. The speed and precision of the music is where the quartet really shine, and if you were to be listening for the technical proficiency of the band alone, you could have very little to complain about. Torti, in particular, behind the kit is a bit of a machine, able to deliver incisive blastbeats that can stop and start with impressive precision, whilst also delivering an insane fill or other such flourishes. The riffs are equally surgical, sharp and lethal.

But, and here’s the disappointing truth for me, only one or two of the ten songs that make up ‘Devotion’ do anything that genuinely catches my ear. The rest is just a maelstrom of technical wizardry that offers barely any let-up, or any je-ne-sais-quoi.

That said, it all starts off pretty well, with ‘Devotion For Tyranny’ entering in a dark, cinematic fashion, with choral chanting and an ominous feel. When the song properly gets going, it’s with an almost cataclysmic eruption of ferocity, guitars dishing out riffs in a blaze of fury, the drums sounding like a hellish battery, and the vocals of guitarist Paolo Pieri suitably nasty and spiteful. The trouble is, the same could be said for just about every one of the songs, as one after the other, they blur into each other, leaving me just a little bored. Where’s the ‘unique selling point’?

,As the album draws to a close, there’s a little more by way of cinematic grandiosity and something other than an incessant bludgeoning. Take ‘The Ravenous Heralds’, the eighth track, where the song features a much greater orchestral element, adding some drama and variety to proceedings. And then there’s the final track, ‘Spiralling Into Decline’ which ends with a choral flourish after two solid minutes of insane, breakneck tech death. But that’s about it.

As a result, I’m afraid that I can only recommend ‘Devotion’ to those who are on the lookout for something that’s wall-to-wall aggression, or who enjoys diving into an album that’s full of technical ability and isn’t so worried about the songwriting, or variety. If this sounds like it’s your bag, then make haste and worship at the altar of ‘Devotion’ because you’ll absolutely love it. If you like your bludgeoning to be a little more nuanced, varied, or memorable, however, you might want to continue your search elsewhere I’m afraid.

The Score of Much Metal: 65%



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