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A HILL TO DIE UPON - Via Artis Via Mortis

The blackened death metal titans return with their first album for new label Luxor Records. The theater masks artwork on Via Artis Via Mortis is less impressive than on previous albums. Helmed by the Cook brothers, the band's trademark dark and moody sound with highly literate lyrics is intact. This time around, Adam Cook's snarled vocals sound as if they are being recorded in a large lightless cave, which is a cool effect, and makes me think that would be the makings of a great video — the band playing in a huge cavern, the sound echoing, and light flashing with each drumbeat.

In the liner notes, a quote is given for each song from sources as diverse as the Bible, C. S. Lewis, Longinus, and even Aleister Crowley, yet does little to help the listener fully decipher the lyrical content, adding to the mystery the band exudes. I have to protest the use of the words "g-- d--- religion" in "Jubal Syrinx." AHTDU has always protested being labeled a christian band, but I will not attempt to defend their use of that particular profanity.

Michael Cook's drumming is ferocious, as always. The axework is more subdued on this album, in the same way bands like Mastodon slowed down their sound over time, the overall moody ambience being effected by their black metal influences, sometimes allowing one catchy riff to carry the song, as in "The Garden." Try and try as you might, you cannot break the spell woven by "Mosin Nagant" and will find yourself headbanging to the deep grooves thrown down by the band. The tension in "St. Cocaine" is palpable as the subject struggles against the chains of addiction- "What doesn't kill me only feeds my paranoia. " The album seems short this time, the effect being like watching your favorite tv show, only to find it's over all too quickly. Excellent work. (Luxor Records) 4 out of 5 stars

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