hy do millions of people ride roller coasters (death in metal compartments) or watch horror movies (death by metal implements)—but not listen to death metal? People will pay for speed and terror, but does long hair scare them off? Perhaps it's the Cookie Monster vocals or the unreadable band logos. Maybe it's the name of the genre—death metal. Whatever the case, Hate Eternal's I, Monarch is not only a fine death metal album, it's also curiously life-affirming.
Part of Hate Eternal's appeal is the sheer speed of the playing. Watching drummer Derek Roddy play live is jaw-dropping. It's hard to believe that a single human can make so much noise without the aid of electricity. The drum kit becomes a blur, shaking from the machine gun and cannon sounds emanating from within. If one likes drums, one will love I, Monarch. At two snares per beat at upwards of 250 beats per minute, the album contains literally thousands of snares over its forty-minute length. But the album isn't all hyper-speed blastbeats; there are plenty of fills and subtle cymbal work, and "Faceless One," the closing instrumental, has downright groovy tribal percussion.
At such high speeds, priorities invert; the drums become the lead instrument. The guitars aren't far behind, though. Singer/guitarist Erik Rutan can shred with the best of them, having come to prominence as a member of Morbid Angel. While his abstract, atonal riffs recall Morbid Angel, his solos, such as the hammer-on licks in "I, Monarch" or the slow, micro-bent break in "Path to the Eternal Gods," showcase a uniquely warped sense of melody.
Since the drums and guitars are busy going berserk, the vocals, as the slowest element, become the rhythm section. Rutan's vocals really help pin the sound down; they are deep, yet surprisingly intelligible for death metal, and the vocal patterns are simple and catchy enough to become hooks. Even casual listeners may find themselves singing along to refrains like "Behold Judas / Betrayer / Behold Judas / Behold!" and "I, Monarch / Master of what shall be / I, Monarch / I, Monarch / Captor of all I seek / I, Monarch." And, yes, Rutan sings while playing guitar, putting him up there with James Hetfield and Dave Mustaine in the "frontmen who play insanely complicated guitar" department.
Thankfully, all these chops serve tight songwriting. The arrangements are complicated, and the sonic mayhem is daunting at first. But repeated listens gradually uncover new patterns, layers, and melodies. "To Know Our Enemies" starts with furiously ascending riffs, but drops into a majestic half-time breakdown, complete with guitar solo and didgeridoo; "Sons of Darkness" has odd meters, menacing counterpoint vocals, and even a tabla interlude. "I, Monarch" has eerie ambience from Zero Kama's The Secret Eye of Laylah, an album made with human bones as instruments, while "The Victorious Reign" begins with dramatic snippets of backwards guitar. In general, the production is full and warm, with natural-sounding drums, a rarity in technical death metal.
For an album filled with superhuman playing, it's apt that the lyrics are about duality of being, mastery of self, and overcoming obstacles ("I am duality / A being so consumed with the darkness inside of me / Through this pain I must endure / These beings that still haunt me"). Cover artist Paul Romano (Mastodon, The Red Chord) ably conveys these concepts with rich golds, reds, and regal fonts. It's a nice break from the usual apocalyptic murk, and the precision and values of the whole package point to something greater than "death metal." This is sound as a weapon, as a gateway, and as a venue for self-improvement. Those willing to explore this album's force may find other music becoming quite bland.