Having given us Obituary, Morbid Angel, Deicide and Cannibal Corpse, Florida has a decent pedigree where death metal is concerned but from the more sludgy grooves of the Tardy brothers’ juggernaut to Benton and co’s barked blasphemies, much of the range has been explored and where is there left to go?
Enter Tampa upstarts Dark Sermon, who having wisely shed their former moniker (In Reference To A Sinking Ship – yeah, I know) greet the world with this rather defiant statement of intent in the form of “In Tongues”. This is a nasty little eruption from start to finish. Pummelling with precision and fury without ever falling into cliche or resorting to repeated crunchy metalcore breakdowns, this demonstrates a level of inventiveness whilst maintaining pace and brute force throughout.
‘Shepherd’s Staff’ is a blitzkrieg opener and may well serve as a quick taste of their sound, but having listened to the album 5 times now it really does feel like the weakest track and not the best way to pull the listener in. That’s not to say it’s a bad song – just standby for it to get much better…
‘Imperfect Contrition’ is a beautifully executed 4 minutes of modern death metal with some fine bass groove really helping propel it forwards. Neat twin lead work from Neal and Austin adds a touch of melody without permeating the entire song. Johnny‘s vocals punish over the brief drums only section and lead into a very neat breakdown that lingers long enough to please but not so long as to become cheesey.
‘Hounds’ is an infectious riff-fest reminiscent of The Black Dahlia Murder and Leng T’Che with a punky chant-a-long chorus and ‘The Scales Of Justice’ twists and turns with slick pace changes and more intricate guitar work.
Elsewhere the theme of inventive deathcore continues with ‘Forfeit II (Worn Thin)’ being another highlight, slower and more brooding but thunderously heavy and again allowing the vocals to really breathe. ‘The Tree Of New Life’s mellow intro is perhaps a shade too long but the black metal tinged onslaught that follows is well worth the wait, closing out with an almost Machine Head like stomp.
With tracks entitled Carcass and Testament I wondered for a second if they would be homage to two of my favourite bands, but this stays resolutely death metal throughout. Rounding off with the title track which is spectacular in its violence and calls to mind polish legends Behemoth and Decapitated, Dark Sermon have conjured up a fearsome debut. With a clean, balanced production that doesn’t lose the drums in the mix and a dramatic and powerful vocalist to boot, this is certainly worthy of your hard-earned pennies and hopefully a support slot with some of the elder statesmen from their home state soon.