To paraphrase H.L. Mencken on democracy, Death Metal fans know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard. Enter prolific producer Erik Rutan, who, in the wake of a successful run with MORBID ANGEL, has quickly become one of the leading purveyors and torchbearers of said genre on these Western shores. Often lurking in the dark shadows behind the mixing board and letting new generations of extreme Metal stars soak up the limelight, Rutan has nevertheless developed a reliable pressure valve for self-expression, a therapeutic tonic designed to purge the soul of its poisons through cathartic tantrums, the American answer to fellow uber-producer Peter Tagtgren's HYPOCRISY. Its name is HATE ETERNAL, and it's been kicking your ass since 1999. But surely you were aware of that.
The fifth album, "Phoenix Amongst The Ashes", has arrived on time and on target. As a songwriter and performer, Rutan is rather tactful - one neither to overstay his welcome in a saturated environment nor to vanish for interminable stretches, his HATE ETERNAL discs reliably appear at three-year intervals, ensuring that we'll never go hungry yet never overindulge in his specialty dish: pure, unbridled aggression. It's the perfect treat for the perfect moment, taken in moderation. "Phoenix" makes this clear upon first spin; it's everything HATE ETERNAL fans should expect. Endless blast beats with precision double-kick; pile-driving riffs that build upon themselves, onward and upward, onward and upward, to frightening crescendos like towering pyramids of rage; arresting sandpaper vocals that ring like a personal (and chillingly intelligible) accusation toward the listener - it's all there, and there's nothing to complain about. The heaviness of HATE ETERNAL has always expanded beyond a mere eardrum irritant and enveloped your entire body, converting your senses into conductors for intensity in all its forms. Your skeleton rattles. Your mind races and roars. The soles of your feet absorb the rumble. Naturally, a subwoofer comes in handy.
With so straightforward a game plan, one could hardly label Rutan an "adventurer", but a few welcome touches surface here and there. The abundant MESHUGGAH-esque grooves of "Haunting Abound", the squealing introductory solo of "The Art Of Redemption", the marching-band stomp and harmonized leads of closer "The Fire Of Resurrection", and the emotional vocal delivery on the hair-raising title track all serve to set "Phoenix" a few wide steps abreast of HATE ETERNAL's rather consistent back catalogue - and many steps above the current Death Metal crop. It's rare these days for a band working within the narrow confines of such a creatively limited genre to have such a powerful impact, but then again, Erik Rutan wasn't born yesterday. He knows what he's doing, and when "Phoenix Amongst The Ashes" lands in critics' favorites lists aplenty by year's end, it should come as a shock to precisely no one.