Retrospective: Dead Congregation – “Graves of the Archangels”

Retrospective sections give me an opportunity to talk about and highlight older albums that I think are worthy of discussion and, usually, praise.

Dead Congregation’s debut full-length album Graves of the Archangels was released back in 2008 in collaboration with Nuclear War Now! Productions. Delivering on the promise of 2005’s universally acclaimed EP Purifying Consecrated Ground, Graves of the Archangels is an absolute triumph of execution over innovation. Vocalist/guitarist A.V. has frequently said that he’s not interested in being technical for the sake of it – he once said he probably couldn’t even cover a Slayer song – the whole point of Dead Congregation is to bring feeling back to death metal. Atmosphere, feel is paramount.

Drawing on the death-doom tradition of bands like Incantation or Immolation without being outright copycats, Graves of the Archangels hits you like a train. This is the bulk of what makes Graves of the Archangels work so well – that rare, indefinable feel of an album. The sheer weight of the sound here –  from the enormity of the guitar tone to the guttural vocals – in its heft and brutality is stunning. Part of it must come down to the way the thick, churning riffs and percussion seem to be playing both incredibly fast and yet also at a slow, lumbering pace. It gives the impression of a frenzy while maintaining the imposing force of a calculated assault. And small flourishes like the religious chants on Teeth Into Red and the title track flesh out that atmosphere even more fully, lending a sense of grandeur to the whole horrifying work.dead-congregation

But most of all what Dead Congregation do is they write really good songs. Hostis Humani Generis‘s thunderous riffs, screeching guitar solos, and blastbeats form one hell of an explosive package. The title track is 8 minutes of tight death metal with the heft and weight of a doom metal band, with riffs and motifs that pull you in and get your head banging without feeling contrived. Subjugation batters your head in in just 71 seconds, while Source of Fire and Teeth Into Red are some of the best death metal songs in many years. When Teeth Into Red kicks into overdrive you’ll be plunged into the depths again and again, and you’ll love every second of it. Every song flows so naturally that even the Subjugation doesn’t feel a second shorter than it should have been.

Dead Congregation might not necessarily bring anything new to the table with this album, but that’s no huge problem. This is still an extraordinary achievement of an album, about as close to the Platonic ideal that any album within this niche sub-genre has come. Crushingly heavy without sacrificing melodic appeal, atmosphere, feel, or songwriting, Graves of the Archangels stands as a powerful wake-up call to death metal bands to remember what’s really important in this style of music.

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