We live in sad days for Christian metal. The genre seems to have lost a lot of steam, bands are breaking up right and left, and so many new acts just can't seem to bring anything new to the table. It's high time for some good news, and here comes Extol to provide it. Extol is the kind of band you hear people wistfully reminiscing about, even years after they called it quits. In the 90's and early 2000's, they were the high water mark of Christian death metal, practically defining the genre with their album Undeceived in the same way that earlier bands like Mortification had done years before. But in 2005, only two albums later, Extol faded away into hiatus, leaving everyone wanting more. Well now we have it. After a long eight years of waiting, three of the four members responsible for Undeceived (and two of the three founding members) have returned for a brand new self-titled album. It was worth the wait.
The band members themselves have described this album as the album they always intended to make. It's not hard to see how this could be the case. It successfuly includes elements that have individually been found in all of their previous albums. The strong death metal presence of Undeceived is all over the album, but there's less guttural, in-your-face vocal aggression. Rather, the vocals occasionally venture into the more cerebral black metal wailings of early albums like Burial, as well as some of the cold thrash metal screams of Synergy. And to top it all off, there's a healthy dose of prog clean vocals reminiscent of The Blueprint Dives. These different vocal stylings are greatly helped by the presence of Ole Borud, who performed the phenomenal cleans on Undeceived but was not present on The Blueprint Dives. Meanwhile, Peter Espevoll shows that he has an excellent range in the variety of harsh vocals he is able to insert into the mix. And all of these influences combine to create an album that is varied, diverse, and emotionally complex.
Of course, all of this stands firmly on top of a solid instrumental foundation. Extol is a band that quickly made a name for being technically proficient in their guitar and drum work, and that reputation holds true here. The simple fact of the matter is that there are very few, if any, bands in the Christian metal scene today that can play at this level of technicality. The riffs are lightning fast and complex, the drumming is aggressive and constantly changing tempos and rhythms, and even the occasional breakdown is very well executed. While perhaps not as technical as the instrumentation on Synergy, the benefit here is that the songwriting is tighter and more accessible. But regardless, where other bands end up being one trick ponies, Extol approaches each track from several different angles. Nowhere is this better seen than in the opening track, "Betrayal," which features aggressive riffing and drumming, varying rhythms, an excellent breakdown, and perfectly placed clean sections. It then transitions without stopping into "Open the Gates," which continues on the same theme but adds additional vocal elements and a great guitar solo. This variety continues throughout the album.
This is a very worthy comeback album. It may not quite reach the heights acheived by Undeceived, but it is a worthy competitor and perhaps tops any of their other releases. The songwriting is controlled and effective, and each track is composed of a diverse range of influences that individually hearken back to each previous album. In building on their previous experience, this feels like exactly the kind of album you would expect from a group of veterans who were once at the top of their genre. Well, they can claim that position again. Extol is back, and we can all be grateful for it.- Review date: 6/23/13, written by Timothy Estabrooks of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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