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A number of the Florida death metal old guard have come back with some of their strongest records in many years. Morbid Angel, Monstrosity, and now Deicide. For largely incomprehensible reasons Deicide has long been enshrined as a legend. Despite having been mired in mediocrity for about two decades Deicide is for some unfathomable reason still considered important irrespective of the great majority of their output being actively mediocre or even hostile to the listener. Deicide made a name for themselves through blood drenched early performances, the usage of “god-deflecting” armor and outlandish statements from their larger-than-life frontman Glen Benton. There’s no contesting that both “Deicide” and “Legion” are worth every accolade bestowed on them. The post-Hoffman years have yielded exactly one classic record with 2006's “The Stench Of Redemption”. However, “The Stench Of Redemption”, lest we forget, was little more than “Serpents Of the Light” with overly shredding and flowery solos courtesy of the late virtuoso Ralph Santolla and Jack Owen. The Sunshine State’s most enduring enfant terrible hasn’t been controversial nor incendiary to any degree in a long, long time. “Overtures Of Blasphemy”, their twelfth record overall, is largely similar to the albums surrounding it. Above all else Deicide has become shockingly efficient at producing consistent albums, even if they are seldom very inspired.

All things considered Deicide have done good for themselves. Granted the days of Deicide epitomizing the ultimate evil are long gone. The post-Hoffman years haven’t exactly been kind to them, nor have they been one of great innovation. Not that the Hoffman brothers have been faring any better on their own, mind. In comparison, Eric and Brian have since their departure in 2004 released “Liar In Wait” with their Amon in 2012. Amon played a grand total of 2 shows in 2017, their only 2 shows since reforming a decade prior. They also have been attempting to crowdfund a second album, campaigns that have proven unsuccessful. At least since 1995’s “Once Upon the Cross” Deicide has adopted an unbelievably streamlined and mercifully compact writing style that plays up to the rather limited abilities of its weakest, most iconic member. Glen Benton is a lot of things but he’s not a good performer. His abilities as a bass guitarist remain forever dubious and the wear-and-tear of 30 years of international touring and the irrevocable passage of time have taken their toll on his vocal cords. The voice of Legion these days sounds suspiciously like Max Cavalera. Since the joining of guitarist Kevin Quirion in 2008 that writing style has been pushed to its logical conclusion. “Overtures Of Blasphemy” is but a variation of “To Hell With God” and “In the Minds Of Evil”. Thankfully it is slightly more ambitious and marginally more hungry sounding.

That Deicide no longer possesses an inch of the character and zest they once held is a truism at this point. Truthfully, they should have split up years ago. Asheim would feel right at home in Malevolent Creation and Benton could finally stop pretending that he actually still cares. “Overtures Of Blasphemy” is better than the last two Deicide albums and far more enjoyable than the two Vital Remains albums on which Benton appeared, but how much does that say exactly? Not much. Somehow, some way Deicide has survived two career slumps on as much labels. While little more than an extension of “To Hell With God” and “In the Minds Of Evil” there’s a fire on “Overtures Of Blasphemy” that has been absent from the band’s output since “The Stench Of Redemption”. Deicide, age and overall redundancy notwithstanding, has found purpose and focus again, it seems. Not that this album will be going down the history books as vitally important or as a new classic anytime soon. Not much of what Deicide has released in the last decade qualifies as such. “Overtures Of Blasphemy” won’t be dethroning “The Stench Of Redemption” as a modern day classic in any shape or form. Deicide is not the band to expect any profound artistic statements from. In the modern age Deicide is all about efficiency instead of artistry. Deicide has elevated to functionality to an artform. “Overtures Of Blasphemy” is the embodiment of functionality, if nothing else.

Compared to their Gibsonton brethren in Obituary, Deicide’s latter-day output has a charm all its own. It possesses a mad thrashing energy that was largely absent in the twilight Hoffman – and Ralph Santolla years. The addition of Kevin Quirion allowed the melodic inclinations that the late Santolla introduced to become an integral part of the sound. Deicide’s third lead guitar tandem Kevin Quirion and Mark English might prove to be their most versatile. Neither Quirion nor English lose themselves in excessive showboating the way Ralph Santolla was often prone to. Stylistically “Overtures Of Blasphemy” shows a few overlaps with “Serpents Of the Light” in how bare-bones and minimal most of its songs are in terms of structure and length. 4 songs barely reach the 3-minute mark, the remainder barely cross the 3-minute mark. No song even reaches 4 minutes. The longest track on the record is ‘One with Satan’ that clocks in at an economic 3:47. Deicide hasn’t penned another ‘Homage For Satan’, ‘When Heaven Burns’, ‘Creatures Of Habit’ or ‘Kill the Christian’ and likely “Overtures Of Blasphemy” won’t yield any new classics. Which isn’t to say that “Overtures Of Blasphemy” isn’t catchy. It is. At 38 minutes it’s one of the longer Deicide offerings in recent memory. It swings, it thrashes and grooves in ways that only modern Deicide can. Will anybody remember this record in years to come? No, “Overtures Of Blasphemy” is barely a blip on the radar.

In the decade and a half since the Hoffman brothers were exiled Deicide has proven resilient and prolific in face of having somewhat of a revolving door in terms of guitarists. Never one to push their chosen genre forward Deicide has always been willing and able to follow whatever prevailing aesthetic trend of the day. “Overtures Of Blasphemy” sports a canvas from from Polish designer Zbigniew M. Bielak, famous for Dimmu Borgir’s “Eonian’”, and it’s significant for being the first in some 17 years to feature the long absent Trifixion. It’s a nice little touch that ultimately means nothing. In the 21st century Deicide has embraced its regressive tendencies and the limitations of Florida death metal as a style. They were one of the first to fall to the wayside when death metal experienced an evolutionary jump at the dawn of the millennium and now some 18 years later Deicide has made its robust, rudimentary approach its ultimate and only selling point. What is a band to do when they are no longer deemed controversial nor incendiary in the way that they used to? They settle into a comfortable groove. On “Overtures Of Blasphemy” Deicide is clearly comfortable with their station in life. In all honesty, we prefer this over some of the atrocities they committed to in the past.

It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for the once-mighty Dark Funeral, Sweden’s self-proclaimed Ineffable Kings of Darkness, with the Bröberg repertoire increasingly having been one of diminishing returns. “Vobiscum Satanas” and “Diabolis Interium” both were efficient for what they were but from “Attera Totus Sanctus” onward Dark Funeral increasingly started to adopt death metal production values and techniques. “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is the completion of the regression that commenced with 2005’s “Attera Totus Sanctus” and reached its apex on the self-parody that was “Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus”. Is age is finally catching up with King Antichrist, Mikael Svanberg – or, more likely, was post-David Parland Dark Funeral just never all that strong in its songwriting to begin with? Dark Funeral has finally put the proverbial noose around its collective neck, and “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is where its lifeless, dilapidated form hangs from.

“Where Shadows Forever Reign” - the not exactly highly anticipated follow-up to the entirely risible “Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus”, a record that was no less than 7 years in the making - has long-running Swedish black metal formation Dark Funeral reaching the point of obvious redundancy and artistic vacuity and thus banks itself entirely on visual/linguistic cues to earlier, better recordings; and self-referential nostalgia. This is not the much pined after return to relevance with material worthy of the “The Secrets Of the Black Arts” legacy, “Where Shadows Forever Reign” continues the co-opting of death metal stylings and production techniques into what is otherwise remarkably unremarkable barely-there Norsecore that second-tiers Setherial perfected to greater degree many years prior. It’s high-time for Svanberg to consider a songwriting partnership as “Where Shadows Forever Reign” isn’t solely in the grip of the pangs of nostalgia, it’s entire raison d'être seems to hinge on making people forget the dreadful Masse Bröberg era of the band.

Like Suffocation’s “Blood Oath” before it “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is considerably slower compared to prior outings. Instead of starting off with a blisteringly fast cut ‘Unchain My Soul’ opens with ominous narration, and takes its time getting started. As such it’s a harbinger of things to come as Dark Funeral, now two decades and half into its existence, is exhausted. The chiming funeral bell on ‘As I Ascend’ greatly enhances the atmosphere, but it merely functions as a bridge towards the single ‘Temple Of Ahriman’. For the first time in history Dark Funeral pairs two slow songs in immediate succession, neither of which are particularly foreboding. “Where Shadows Forever Reign” does sound like Dark Funeral, especially on the last three Bröberg fronted efforts, but none of it is particularly inspired or inspiring. New frontman Andreas Vingbäck sounds far closer to original singer Paul Mäkitalo with his selection of serpentine rasps, slashing shrieks, and ominous ululations, than to rightly maligned former Hypocrisy frontman Magnus Bröberg. Andreas Fröberg (who has since defected) is another in a long line of completely inconsequential and interchangeable bass guitarists - especially with Svanberg handling the instrument in the studio - that nobody pays attention to. ‘Unchain My Soul’, ‘As One We Shall Conquer’ and ‘Nail Them to the Cross’ were co-written with drummer Nils Fjellström (who has since defected), but it isn’t nearly enough to shake off the rust of a decade plus of self-imposed creative stasis.

You’d be hardpressed to recognize any of this as Dark Funeral, especially the drastically lowered pace and the heavy-handed attempt at mimicking Dissection-like epic songwriting, complete with Iron Maiden-inspired leads and archetypical Swedish melodic accents. In light of a 7 year hiatus (and another overhaul of half the line-up) what could we possibly expect? A return to the golden days of “The Secrets Of the Black Arts”, the one Dark Funeral record that Svanberg had practically no involvement in? No. It’s nothing short of a miracle that Dark Funeral is still around to begin with, and their adamant refusal to go quietly into the night almost resembles Maryland’s Dying Fetus. Not everything about “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is terrible. Yet it is terrible enough to merit that most on “Where Shadows Forever Reign” either doesn’t resemble the Dark Funeral we’ve all come to love/hate, or either is a nostalgic callback to the brighter, fiercer, more agile days of “The Secrets Of the Black Arts”. Making a long overdue return is the instantly classic blue Necrolord canvas and the old title font. It’s faint praise indeed but at least “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is better on the visual front than “Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus”, which isn’t much of a recommendation in and of itself.

At this point there’s no other way of saying what everybody the least bit perceptive already knew years ago. Dark Funeral is a spent creative force, and “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is testament to its redundancy. “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is a solid enough death metal album - one that doesn’t warrant frequent revisiting - but not one you’d want to see adorned with the iconic Dark Funeral coat of arms. Not that this particular evolution is the least bit surprising or unexpected. It was over a decade coming, and now Armageddon has finally come. More than anything “Where Shadows Forever Reign” has the look of a last-minute act of restoration, a desperate attempt to invoke the spirit of the glorious past. This Temple Of Ahriman has been in disrepair for longer than was probably healthy, and “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is unable to escape the looming shadow of the superior songwriting skills of the late David Parland. It’s high time for the Black Winged Horde, these Demons Of Five, to refamiliarize themselves with what made them famous to begin with. In 2016 Dark Funeral is as declawed, docile, and unnecessary as modern day Dimmu Borgir. The real question is: when will the metal scene finally refuse to put up with mediocre swill like this? No more!