God Dethroned’s Passiondale
The Dutch death-metal band God Dethroned has been producing dark, heavy music since their formation in the early 1990s. Traditionally, most of their lyrical content revolved around anti-Christian sentiment, but recently they have found new inspiration for their music: a war-torn Belgian village called Passendale.
God Dethroned’s eighth studio album, Passiondale, is a ferocious concept album that plunges the listener deep into the mud-filled trenches of one of World War I’s bloodiest battles. The album begins with the foreboding intro track, “The Cross of Sacrifice,” complete with ominous guitars and the muted sounds of marching soldiers and distant artillery fire. The relative calm is soon broken by the explosive, blackened death metal blockbuster “Under a Darkening Sky,” which definitely gets the adrenaline pumping. This is one of the best songs on Passiondale, and the perfect track to set the tone for rest of this intense and emotional album.
“No Man’s Land” keeps up the furious pace with help from returning drummer Roel Sanders, who played on the band’s Grand Grimoire and Bloody Blasphemy albums. Sanders’ mad machine-gun-blast beats are the perfect complement to guitarist and singer Henri Sattler’s enunciated growls, which detail the atrocities of combat via ghastly lyrics such as “Only the rats grew fat on attrition, glutted with the flesh of dead soldiers.”
The highlight of the album is “Poison Fog,” a harrowing account of comrades being exposed to deadly mustard gas, told from the perspective of a surviving soldier. The bombastic music and vocals create an atmosphere of deep fear and panic. Likewise, the addition of clean singing and melodic breaks with swelling keyboards and melancholy guitar solos add to the music an element of sympathy that is rarely seen in the death-metal genre. These thoughtful moments contribute to the overall sophistication of the album.
By contrast, “Drowning in Mud” is a fast, brutal auditory depiction of trench warfare that has singer Sattler cautioning, “Don’t stick your head out. The sniper never sleeps.” Things slow down a bit for the mid-tempo title track, which is haunting and melodic, but the speed is immediately regained with “No Survivors,” which features more blast beats and blistering guitar solos.
The album nears its end with two fine examples of melodic death metal: “Behind Enemy Lines” and “Fallen Empires,” both of which showcase God Dethroned’s expert musicianship. Ultimately, the 38-minute album comes to a close with a mournful instrumental, “Artifacts of the Great War.” This moment of sensitivity nicely bookends this hard, bullet-riddled album.
Although Passiondale doesn’t serve as a history lesson, God Dethroned seems to have come awfully close to capturing the raw emotions of combat. The band has also come awfully close to recapturing the level of quality songwriting that was attained with its Bloody Blasphemy album. Fans of God Dethroned should be pleased because,with Passiondale, the band has reached yet another peak.