Hour of Penance are a technical death metal band from Italy that have been around for about 15 years now, forming back in 1999. For a decade and a half this band has been refining and perfecting its brand of death metal largely in the shadows, being better associated with consistency and iteration rather than dramatic changes in sound. After Fleshgod Apocalypse’s album ‘The Agony’ they gained a wave of fans who rejected that new, symphonic sound, and wanted more of what they got on Oracles, which HoP deliver in spades. On their sixth full-length album, Hour of Penance continue down the path of technical death metal but seem to move more in the direction of Behemoth or Immolation’s brand of blistering brutality.
Part of the success of Hour of Penance is a result of their ability to pile catchy riff upon catchy riff into a single song while sacrificing neither the overall structure of the song nor the overall ‘heavy’ factor that might be somewhat weakened the more melody you introduce. The riffs are technical and very tightly performed, and the benefit of having both a rhythm guitarist (/vocalist) and a lead guitarist is made clear on this album. Addictive riffs almost blend in with the powerful lead guitar, often blending with the riffs before taking off in its own direction, throwing in an astonishing solo before pummeling you over the head with some other crushing riff.
The vocals are one of the aspects I’ve always liked most about HoP, as they remind me of Nergal from Behemoth or Cristiano from Fleshgod Apocalypse: a hoarse, powerful, mid-range bellow, with a few moments of a slightly higher range, acting more as one extra texture among the many sounds they craft rather than trying to demand all the attention up-front. It’s an approach that pays off, being neither so loud and out-of-place that you can’t help but listen to them, nor so quiet that you ever forget they’re there.
Here and there Hour of Penance display a bit more of a sense of ‘scale’, of aiming a bit higher and trying to create a larger, grander sound, first displayed in the intro track which does a great job of setting the mood for the rest of the album, as well as ‘Sealed Into Ecstasy’ and ‘Theogony’, the second of which opens with what sounds like monks singing a hymn before boom the death metal begins. Cracking stuff. For the most part though, Regicide does what it says on the tin: slays. This album absolutely does not fuck about.
The songs are mostly straightforward affairs, with some making use of a conventional verse-chorus song structure while others seem to play with some of the ideas they’ve come up with rather than jump straight back into a chorus. I don’t say this as a criticism: there is a time and a place for 10 minute prog epics, but Hour of Penance is not this. That’s not to say it’s entirely lacking in depth, the complexity and virtuosity of the instruments is enough to render that criticism flawed, while the lyrics also seem to be strong enough. Yes, the album can sometimes suffer from monotony on repeated listens, but the album is short enough at just 40 minutes that as long as you don’t go overkill on the replay button you should be okay.
Regicide’ revolves around the themes of destruction and rebirth and the killing of the king – be he your own fears, prejudices or dogmas that you build inside yourself to cope with reality. Only by letting go of those illusions and tearing down the walls of ignorance and fear that society, religion and every form of dysfunctional authority you interjected during your life, can you start to rebuild your own path as a free man that has no need for a king.“ Guitarist Paolo Pier
If you’re a fan of early Morbid Angel; if you’re into Immolation; if you want more of where Behemoth’s Demigod came from; if you’re disappointed with the direction Fleshgod Apocalypse took after Oracle or Mafia, then I can think of no album that is better equipped to satisfy your musical needs. This is technical death metal distilled to its most pure form, with machine-gun riffing, harsh, barked vocals, sizzling guitar solos, and a healthy dollop of blastbeats. All topped off by superb production that succeeds in creating that natural sound that is so desperately lacking in many technical death metal releases. I can see this being on many end-of-year lists, perhaps mine included.