A HILL TO DIE UPON - Infinite Titanic Immortal (Limited Run Vinyl)
As the Limited Run Vinyl series continues to expand (almost near weekly at this point), we are striving to keep up with these audiophile quality releases in real time, and in doing so keep prospective buyers informed of the quality and content of each album. In the process, each release is placed within the context of the music scene at the time of its original release, and when appropriate or relevant (and sometimes just for fun), the reviewers (Jeff McCormack and myself so far) have shared the impact the music had on us personally. Furthermore, while each review stands alone, the sum of them serves as a chronological history of the series. This way we can also keep you informed of changes and adjustments to both the quality and the content of the product as time rolls onward.
As many have surmised by now, the LRV series is quite diverse, combining older releases like Bride – Silence Is Madness and the self-titled Angelica, with newer releases like Antestor – Omen and Ritual Servant – Metallum Evangelii. In addition to the span of years featured, the musical offerings range from AOR/melodic rock to power/progressive metal to extreme metal. As to the extreme metal offerings, Infinite Titanic Immortal is now the third release in the series from Bombworks Records (behind the previously mentioned Antestor and the crushing Crimson Thorn – Unearthed) … and what a brutal work of art for the ears!
The music of A Hill To Die Upon (essentially the Cook brothers) has often been labeled a cross between black and death metal, akin to Behemoth. This certainly was the style on their debut album, originally released in 2009 on Bombworks Records, but they did move in slightly more progressive directions on subsequent releases. In celebration of the album’s 10th anniversary, the songs have been mastered for vinyl (first time) by Rob Colwell and released as part of the Limited Run Vinyl series. Not surprisingly, the sound is massive on this format! Unlike some of the other releases in this series, this one has not been released along side of a new CD version, largely because limited copies of the original CD digi remain available HERE.
A “List” To Die Upon
In order to put the magnitude of this release in perspective, step back in time a decade. This album was so impactful to the scene (2009) because death metal and black metal were becoming so one-dimensional – every song sounding the same with little innovation and some not-so-good sounding recordings. At the time of its release I was working as our managing editor and we had just begun the process of compiling a list of albums to populate the Top 100 “all-time” list. I specifically remember editor Doug Van Pelt telling everyone that we need to consider the whole spectrum of releases, old and new, because it was obviously easier to focus on albums from the era when Christian metal was flourishing (1985 – 2000). Also, one of the criteria for consideration on the list was “impact to the scene.” So on the one hand we were working within the confines of “impact” and “classic” status and such, and on the other we were being pressed to consider recent (at the time) releases – basically “forecasting” which of the newer music would be huge or “timeless.”
As you can imagine, trying to get a bunch of metalheads to come to a consensus on anything is about near impossible … but a top 100 list? Essentially, I was tasked with constructing the miraculous! But here is the point of all this discussion – I don’t recall a single measure of difficulty getting Infinite Titanic Immortal on the list despite the album’s “newness.” Yeah, a few of the guys didn’t like extreme metal of any kind, but for those of us who listened to this album, there was that “wow” factor. All that to say, it ended up #79 on the Heaven’s Metal Top 100 Christian Metal Albums Of All Time … and the rest is history! What we didn’t know at that time, of course, was how well these tunes would hold up over time.
In 2010 (when the list was compiled and originally published) Heaven’s Metal writer/contributor Loyd Harp had this to say –
“Memorable riffs, brutal structures, mesmerizing melodies – all of this and more cause my finger to go to the repeat button!”
And for this joyous occasion, I even dug up some of my own original impressions -
“Replete with a healthy imagination and tons of literary influence, Adam and Michael Cook have crafted a very impressive death metal album filled with thundering blast beats, heavy guitars and guttural, yet highly discernable growls (a cross of BTA’s Jasun Wisdom and Dark Tranquillity’s Mikael Stanne). While most narrative type concept albums tend to bog down with storytelling (interludes, spoken parts, etc.) that doesn’t really happen here. Each of the songs stand up well alone, which is largely a testament to the strong songwriting and skillful playing.”
Although Adam and Michael Cook are Christian artists, AHTDU didn’t fit the mold, which they have stated was purposeful. They are Christians making great art – emphasis on “great.” Instead of trying to be original, innovative or cutting-edge, the brothers focus has been excellence in execution of the style of music they enjoy and are most gifted to create. AHTDU came out of a hardcore/deathcore background but switched to death/black metal for this reason. To me, this is ironic, because what makes Infinite Titanic Immortal so great is that it does NOT stick to the formulas of the genre. When we heard these songs in 2009 and 2010 they stood out from the crowd – there was and remains a distinct identity to the sound these guys created. And while no band wants to hear this, this remains my favorite release of theirs to date. Were we justified in putting this on the top 100 list? I think so as these songs sound vital 10 years later, especially on the vinyl.
So … what about the music anyway?
Words can’t adequately describe the complexity, speed and power. There are elements of melodic death metal (I’ve already alluded to Dark Tranquillity) yet there is a harshness and intensity which “blackens” the mix. The dynamics play a huge part. In many ways, the opening instrumental track is like a foreshadowing of what’s to come, but on a small scale. The ensuing sounds wind and twist around the auditory canals with an enveloping mixture of melodic and frenetic guitar lines, precision-tight tom and bass drum driven rhythms amidst lethal vocal lashings. In war-like fashion there is an ebb and flow of action, yet the verbal outpourings/exhortations and machine-gun percussive fusillades are relentless. Adam Cook’s voice is a weapon, especially when spewing forth Latin phrases like “Carmen ex ignis/Cantus ex metus” or my favorite, “Heka secundas!” There are no weaknesses musically. From “fire” to “rime” this album is a fantastic journey – one which will leave you simultaneously inspired and exhausted.
So … what about the lyrics?
I’ve been told by some that within the extreme genres of metal, lyrics don’t matter anyway because no one cares about hearing them or discerning them. Lyrics always matter to me … and they matter to this band. All I can say is that they are Biblical, mythological, literary – war and despair recurrent themes – and way visceral. There is a cinematic quality to them. If a film producer ever desired extreme metal music for the soundtrack to Nordic Vikings vs. Greek Titans (or any war epic for that matter), they could easily apply these songs.
There is this…
“Artist of my clay spirit/I am the reclaimed fallen son/Of what we can or would die to see/A fire in the hearts of men” – “Prometheus Rebound”
"Beholdeth what we cannot see/God of gods!/Law by nature, by will alone/Infinite Titanic Immortal” – “Twin Heads of Vengeance”
“Why, oh why are we left?/To be sin in such perfect a place/The desolate mind is so perfectly spoiled/In the eyes of a rapturous snake” – “We Soulless Men”
Intelligent. Spiritually relevant. Yeah, the lyrics matter…
So … what about the vinyl?
Great color swirl (as pictured) with the Bombworks logo on the Side B label (below). As was the case with Antestor – Omen, this album sounds so much better on this vinyl master. Once again, the deeper and warmer tones of vinyl keep the music more listenable at higher volumes. Adam’s voice is such a central part of the AHTDU sound, and I love how the vinyl reproduces the deeper parts of his extremely discernible growl. And once more, when I A/B the digital to vinyl versions on the same system, the vinyl just has the superior sound with less distortion at high volume and a more “real” live sound. End result = massive, wall-thundering, window-vibrating metal bliss!
I do have a few negative observations, but nothing serious. There is an error in the track listing that persists from the original CD to the vinyl version. On both CD and vinyl “We Soulless Men” is the song that actually precedes the instrumental track “The Dark Road.” So on the vinyl, song “one” on Side B is actually “We Soulless Men” which is followed by “The Dark Road,” but the song listing on both the original CD and now this vinyl jacket (rear cover) has it reversed. I confess that I do not know the band’s original intent for the song order. From a vinyl perspective it would have made more sense to have the opening track on Side B as the instrumental, but it is what it is. Minor, but frustrating nonetheless. My other observation – the lack of a lyric insert for this release is a shortcoming. A double gatefold with lyrics on the inner sides would have been my preference because the lyrics to this album are so vital, so well thought-out. At minimum, an insert was needed because its almost impossible to read the “red words on reddish background” from the original CD 4-panel gatefold digipak. Yes, most of Cook’s vocals are discernible, but for those not aware, the liner notes to each song – with references to influences and quotes from authors, Scripture, etc. – were part of the original and without them, that vital information is absent.
Infinite Titanic Immortal is a 200 unit run in this series, but given the magnitude of praise this album has received over the past decade, you don’t want to miss out on an opportunity to own this record and experience the aural warfare in first person so click HERE to grab your copy before the Titans wipe it off the planet for time immortal!
1. Of Fire and Division (1:13)
2. Prometheus Rebound (4:23)
3. This King Never Smiles (3:33)
4. Season of the Starved Wolf (5:05)
5. Twin Heads of Vengeance (5:53)
6. Heka Secundus (3:30)
1. We Soulless Men (5:38)*
2. The Dark Road (1:35)
3. Titanic Essence (3:46)
4. Eclipse of Serpents (5:06)
5. Rime (6:03)
*This is the actual order the songs play on the vinyl