Still striving to be the last word in maximalist modern metal, ALLEGAEON have been a formidable force over the last decade. Stoically progressive, technically dazzling and yet always in thrall to the uplifting power of melody, the Colorado crew have already released several extraordinary records, and “Damnum” is simply another triumph to add to the list. Still rooted in melodic death metal, but increasingly adventurous in terms of both arrangements and dynamics, the band’s sixth full-length offers yet another great leap forward, but with more than enough brutality and showmanship to satisfy the faithful. Irritatingly, they make it look easy.
Sonically pristine and located squarely at metal’s cutting edge, “Damnum” is what happens when absurdly gifted musicians reach a state of unwavering confidence. ALLEGAEON have dazzled in the past, of course, but their all-encompassing sound has never been as elegantly expressed as it is here. “Bastards of the Earth” is a furious opener that ticks off a bunch of the band’s trademarks, but it’s “Of Beasts and Worms” that demonstrates the true extent of their evolution. Overtly prog-fueled and embellished with hazy, analogue organ, the song’s first half is mesmerizing; its explosive second half, as bewildering and vicious as anything in the ALLEGAEON canon. Similarly, “To Carry My Grief Through Torpor and Silence” snaps seamlessly from imperious, melo-death squall to lissome, jazz fusion interlude and back again, the Americans’ collective dexterity wholly focused on honoring the numerous hooks and melodies that, somehow, band founder Greg Burgess slots skillfully into these mini-symphonies. Even at their most intense and straightforward, as on the stormy “Into Embers” and the black and bloody “Vermin”, ALLEGAEON‘s shared lust for invention shines through, in rhythmic intricacies, textural quirks and all manner of unfathomable guitar work.
“Called Home” is the album’s obvious centerpiece, and it’s a stunning piece of songwriting: gothic and grand, it sizzles with black metal’s grim allure while gently evoking the liberated contemporary prog of OPETH and KATATONIA. Quietly beautiful, it’s a revelatory moment and a tantalizing glimpse of where ALLEGAEON may be heading next.
Elsewhere, two-part curio “The Dopamine Void” shimmers in nourishing reverb, before veering off on a frostbitten tangent, with both drummer Jeff Saltzman and vocalist Riley McShane locked in visceral, machine-gun mode, while “Saturnine” is another immaculate, highly evolved tech-melo-death gem. Darker and more destructive than any previous album, and yet uncannily accessible and full of jaw-dropping moments, “Damnum” is technique and soul in a state of perfect synergy. It closes with “Only Loss”, another startling rush of great ideas, pitiless precision and enlightened, futuristic metal power. ALLEGAEON have always been a bit special, and this is their most fantastic and fearless voyage to date.