Photo: Axel Jusseit
To Hell With God (buy it from Amazon) is the 10th studio album by Florida’s Deicide, one of the first death metal bands and one that’s undergone a startling rejuvenation in the last half-dozen years. Two founding members—bassist, vocalist and bandleader Glen Benton and drummer Steve Asheim—remain, but the group’s co-lead guitarists, Brian and Eric Hoffman, departed in 2004. They were replaced by Jack Owen (ex-Cannibal Corpse) and Ralph Santolla (ex-Death) and, when Santolla joined Obituary in 2007, by Kevin Quirion of Order of Ennead. To Hell With God is the third album by Deicide, Mk. 2, and it’s as strong as anything in the group’s discography.
The first album by the Owen/Santolla lineup, 2006′s The Stench of Redemption, seemed at first glance to be just more of the same. Glen Benton has always had exactly one thing on his mind when he sits down to write lyrics: how much he hates Jesus. Every song on every album has been the crudest, most bludgeoning blasphemy imaginable. He has never even attempted to make a positive case for Satan, as other extreme metal musicians have done. Benton is a straight-up hater. And lyrically, Stench was no different from its predecessor, 2004′s Scars of the Crucifix, 1990′s self-titled debut, 1992′s Legion, 1995′s Once Upon the Cross, or any of the albums in between. But musically, it was a quantum leap forward. The dual lead guitars of Owen and Santolla added a melodic quality ot the riffs, and their breathtakingly shredtastic solos vaulted Deicide into the top rank of death metal bands for the first time in many years. They’d been coasting on their early reputation for more than a decade, but they were undeniably back.
The renaissance didn’t last, unfortunately. The group’s next album, 2008′s Till Death Do Us Part, found Benton almost entirely abandoning his rote anti-Christian lyrics for what amounted to a death metal version of Marvin Gaye‘s Here, My Dear—the whole disc was a series of attacks on his ex-wife, whose divorce filing had forced him to miss Deicide’s European tour dates. The music had its moments, and even offered some surprises, like the opening and closing instrumentals, “The Beginning of the End” and “The End of the Beginning,” and the slow, even bluesy “Horror in the Halls of Stone,” but too many of the songs were paint-by-numbers death metal, with Benton ranting from beginning to end and barely leaving room for guitar solos. It seemed like Deicide was on the brink of implosion again.
Well, To Hell With God is yet another comeback, and a superb sequel to The Stench of Redemption. The songs are catchy again; the verses have an internal rhythm you can chant along to (“Servant of the Enemy” employs a literal nursery-rhyme cadence), and if the choruses are occasionally simplistic, the guitar solos definitely are not. The music is played with astonishing skill and ferocity, and it’s produced beautifully. A lot of contemporary death metal is too digital, and too artificially loud; it crunches into the listener’s ear canals like balls of tinfoil being wedged in by assaultive thumbs. To Hell With God is clean, and each instrument has its own place in the mix—one guitar on each side, Benton and Asheim in the middle, the guttural vocals clearly audible and shockingly comprehensible. As is often the case with Deicide, it’s a short album, 10 tracks in just over 35 minutes. Unlike the majority of its predecessors, it’s actually a good-looking record, too; the cover art is possibly the best they’ve ever had, especially when compared with, say, the awful Serpents of the Light.
It’s more than a little surprising that Deicide has an album this strong in them, 21 years after their debut. But veteran metal acts have been showing the kids how it’s done a lot lately; Cannibal Corpse and Obituary have been on hot streaks in the last few years, too, and many metalheads’ hopes are high for the forthcoming Morbid Angel disc. It’s really good to have Deicide around doing work of this quality, boneheaded lyrics and all.