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Whereas “Conquering the Throne” was a serviceable debut of a couple of noted underground musicians, it was “King Of All Kings” that truly elevated Hate Eternal to the upper echelons of the death metal genre, domestic and abroad. The constellation of Erik Rutan (vocals, lead/rhythm guitar), Jared Anderson (bass guitar, vocals) and Derek Roddy (drums) had delivered their breakout record, and now more than ever all eyes were set upon them to deliver on the promise of that second record. Somewhere during the touring campaign Anderson defected to deal with his substance addiction, and a temporary replacement was drafted in one Randy Piro. Once again holing up in Mana Recordings in genre hotbed Florida the trio wrote and recorded “I, Monarch”, the band’s third and most conceptually complete record up to that point.

hatepic2The third Hate Eternal album marks the end of an era for the band. It was the last record for long-time contractor Earache Records, the last to feature notorious drum mercenary (and budding solo artist/clinician) Derek Roddy and the sole record to feature bass guitarist/vocalist Randy Piro. It is the first record to feature artwork by Paul Romano, and the last of three records to feature royal connotations in its choice for album title. Functioning as the transitional record in between the two eras of the band, it is a punishingly brutal, and inhumanly fast but surprisingly diverse and groovy exploration of the sound Hate Eternal had perfected on the preceding two albums. The ornamental enhancements accentuate the band’s strengths and put more emphasis on the more developed songstructures. This can especially be heard in the instrumental track ‘Faceless One’, which is sadly the only such thing Hate Eternal has done to date. This more adventurous spirit is what makes this record so much more engaging than the competent but rather faceless two albums that came before. The right level of experimentation, and instrumentation make this record slightly different from the pure exercises of inhuman speed and technical expertise. The same can be said about “I, Monarch”, but it is wrapped in an atmospheric package from which it benefits.

Notable is that “I, Monarch” goes for a meatier, fuller production that recalls the band’s debut, but is far richer in terms of tone, depth and texture. Produced once again at Mana Recordings in St. Petersburg, Florida by Erik Rutan and Derek Roddy, it is here that the latter displays his own signature writing style, and has a crunchy production to match. For the first (and only) time the drums sound truly massive and commanding all while displaying the intricacies, precision and force with which they are played. It is unfortunate that it would be the swansong for drummer Derek Roddy. As always the bass guitar is buried underneath the thick sounding guitars, and drums. It is hard to judge exactly what Randy Piro contributes to these songs instrumentally, but at least vocally he is able to match himself with his much loved predecessor Jared Anderson. The riffs are much more interesting and engaging compared to the preceding two records, and they are of more significance within the better developed songstructures. The key strength of “I, Monarch” is that it isn’t afraid to slow down every once in a while, and put the tireless blasting of Roddy in service of the song – and not the other way around. Without a doubt it is Hate Eternal’s most diverse and accomplished recording.

It is by all accounts the most diverse and best-produced Hate Eternal record due to the use of atmospheric segues and better paced songwriting. An organic, crunchy production and each musician being at the top of their game in terms of writing and performance help immensely too. In essence “I, Monarch” is more closely related to “Conquering the Throne” in terms of construction than it is to its predecessor. What sets it apart from its predecessors is the usage of sampled segues taken from the track ‘Death Posture’ off the “The Secret Eye Of Laylah” recordings by Michael “Zos” Dewitt and Zero Kama, plus the didjeridoo that is heard in ‘To Know Our Enemies’. All of this is mostly superficial as beyond the more balanced and warmer production Hate Eternal has changed precious little in between this and the albums that came before. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing because too many bands seem to change with every record. On its first three records Hate Eternal perfected its traditional death metal sound in every possible way, and “I, Monarch” is the most representative of those changes. It is the record where the band finally showed what they were capable of as songwriters. “Conquering the Throne” and “King Of All Kings” (the former more than the latter) seemed to focus on speed and brutality almost exclusively. That is finally changed wth this third record, and the band is so much more powerful and, well, better for it.

If one was to approach the record without its atmospheric enhancements and instrumentation, what one is left with is an expertly produced but bog standard modern day death metal album. Thankfully Rutan’s former experience in Morbid Angel (and formative death metal act Ripping Corpse before that) has left him with a keen understanding of the genre’s dynamics and strengths. Where any lesser bands would fail Hate Eternal understands the importance of nuance and diversity. Nobody is going to argue that this band has a very specific, tunnel vision of what the genre should be – yet for with this third album (and the two that preceded it) they wrote poignant material within the perimeters they had set for themselves. The nuances primarily are found in the use of melody, a newfound diversity in its percussive assault and Rutan’s always sparkling Eastern sounding leads/solos. On top of all these marked improvements Rutan’s vocals are a lot better produced this time around clearly proving his ability as a frontman. In comparison to a lot of his contemporary peers his growls are well enunciated and never stray into unintelligible territory despite their impressive throaty depth.

Two videos were shot to promote the record. The videos for ‘I, Monarch’ and ‘The Victorious Reign’ were directed and produced by Shane Drake for Red Van Pictures. Of the two ‘I, Monarch’ is the most interesting as it combines the usual performance footage with a narrative of a sorcerer’s apprentice building a contraption out of human remains. The video for ‘The Victorious Reign’ is a typical performance video set in a warehouse. It is only memorable for the very brief spot where second live guitarist Eric Hersemann can be seen. Hersemann appeared prior on the Diabolic record “Infinity Through Purification” (which featured a similar but lesser interpretation of this record’s sound), and later would form psychedelic death metal act Gigan with fellow former Hate Eternal bass guitarist Randy Piro. On the successor to this record the band would enlist a new drummer, recruit a famous session bass guitarist and adopt a more bouncy sound. The classic era ends with this last installment of a three-album stint. One can only wonder what this record would have sounded like had Anderson co-written in the sessions.

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On its second record Florida tornado Hate Eternal settled into its own, and with the recruitment of South Carolina native Derek Roddy the unit found its most recognizable skinsman. Having cut his teeth in Malevolent Creation, Aurora Borealis and Divine Empire prior to his appearance on this album, noted mercenary Roddy is one of three elements that make this Hate Eternal’s fastest, lean, mean and most extreme record they ever put out. Like the debut this is the only record in this constellation, as Jared Anderson (bass guitar, backing vocals) would depart in order to commit himself to a drug rehabilitation programme. It is also the only album to feature artwork by Andreas Marschall (Blind Guardian, Destruction, Immolation, Kreator), and the first to be recorded entirely by Rutan himself at his own privately owned studio compound Dimensional Sound (later redubbed Mana Recordings) in the genre epicenter that was and is Tampa, Florida.

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The album starts off with ‘Our Beckoning’, a fairly pointless and inconsequential intro track consisting of sound effects and pitch-shifted spoken word vocalizations. The album truly starts with the title track, a cut little under three minutes that displays Hate Eternal’s further mastery of its chosen style and a template for the rest of the album. One of the first things to notice is how different “King Of All Kings” is from the debut of a few years prior. This record, above all else, is about extreme speed more than anything. The addition of Derek Roddy fits perfectly with the objective, as he is more angular in style in comparison to his predecessor Tim Yeung, who combined blasts with rolls and fills. Another difference is that the riffing has been tightened up, and what was previously present in regards to ripping thrash metal architecture has been fully abandoned. As with the debut the bass guitar is seldomly heard, and although it adds significantly to the bottom end heaviness of this product, it’s hard tell how creative Anderson’s lines are as the crunchy and concrete sounding guitars dominate the production next to the drums.

It is the contributions of Jared Anderson that differentiate it with the record that preceded it. As in his own unit Internecine Anderson writes poignant, skin-crawling melodies that run under Rutan’s riffing. The tightened up riff construction and Roddy’s percussive propulsion makes “King Of All Kings” the defining moment in Hate Eternal’s catalogue, and the presence of its signature track ‘Powers That Be’, redefined what this type of death metal could be in the hands of capable musicians that understood its strengths. That isn’t to say that “King Of All Kings” is revolutionary or innovative, as it is still heavily redolent of Morbid Angel and the South American death metal sound of the Krisiun trio. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, as Rutan spent two months in 1999 producing that band’s third record “Conquerors Of Armageddon”. At that point everything for the first record had been written, so it is only natural that the influence would be felt on this album, the follow-up to “Conquering the Throne”.

The vocal interaction between Rutan and Anderson is far more pronounced here, and both share equal time behind the mic. It is here that Hate Eternal’s call-and-response vocal approach first appears in its full glory. The presence of Anderson was minimal on the debut, but here both men make their voice heard. Generally, Rutan has a lower register and his grunt is deeper overall, while Anderson sounds more piercing and throatier.

A common complaint is that all these tracks sound very identical, and to a certain degree this is in fact true. Hate Eternal has a very narrow vision in what it wishes to accomplish. There are a few tracks that do stand out for a number of reasons. ‘The Obscure Terror’ is pushed forward by a very rolling drumbeat. ‘Beyond Redemption’ has a stronger vocal presence of Jared Anderson, a memorable chorus and the track is his ideological vessel. ‘Chants In Declaration’ and ‘In Spirit (The Power Of Mana)’ are a tiny bit slower early on and during the chorus sections. ‘Rising Legions Of Black’ has also a stronger vocal presence of Anderson. ‘Powers That Be’ not only stands out because it is the single of this album, but also because of its lyrical deviation from the spiritual self-empowerment that many of this album’s songs deal with. Instead this track talks about the sudden disappearance of the Incan empire and culture and its impact on the wider world.  The real highlight of the album are the many esoteric and eastern sounding leads/solos by mainman Erik Rutan. His zipping solos are truly his own, and while the influence of Trey Azagthoth is hard to miss, it is wonderful to hear how much Rutan has developed his own style and technique. The absence of Doug Cerrito isn’t even a point and Derek Roddy’s recording debut with this band is as smooth as one can possibly imagine.

Recorded and produced entirely by Erik Rutan at his own newly minted Dimensional Sound facility “King Of All Kings” went on to become his calling card as far as production work goes. The biting guitar tone is less thick compared to the debut, but is increased in clarity, definition and crunchiness. The bass guitar is actually present in the mix but it is very hard to make out due to dominating presence of the rhythm guitars. It can be briefly heard in ‘Born By Fire’ and ‘In Spirit (The Power Of Mana)’, but that’s about it. Alas it is not the visceral throbbing Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse) or Jeroen-Paul Thesseling (Pestilence, Obscura) tone that is to be found here. The drums sound less overly thick and meaty as was the case with the debut. In fact the snares and toms sound decidedly less thick, and the kickdrums don’t add much to the overall bottom end heaviness as they are rather thin. The drum production here is as far as one can get from, say, the drum production of Gorefest’s “Erase” record, or Sepultura’s “Arise”. The production is very guitar-oriented, and although more bass presence would have helped tremendously “King Of All Kings” comes with a sound that fits the music.

Debuting his new studio facility through this album (and its two companion pieces: Internecine’s “Book Of Lambs” and Pessimist’s “Slaughtering the Faithful”) Erik Rutan proves his valor manning the console. This album and the one to follow would eventually establish him as the new death metal metal producer that everybody wanted to work with in Tampa, Florida and beyond. The production is a definite step forward in comparison to the Wes Garren produced and Juan ‘Punchy’ Gonzalez mastered debut on all fronts. It obviously isn’t without its faults, but for a high profile release as this Erik Rutan’s work is more than commendable. For this record the band commissioned an Andreas Marschall painting for the cover artwork. That seemed the only logical choice as a Joe Petagno artwork would have sent this into Diabolic territory of unintended goofiness. Hate Eternal realized its potential early on, and worked to differentiate itself on the most important aspects. “King Of All Kings” is the signature record for this band, and it is one of the better representations of contemporary, high-speed death metal. It certainly was leagues better than the material Morbid Angel was putting out at the time.