God Dethroned happen to be one of those rare bands who, despite having formed almost two decades ago, have not yet put out a bad album, atleast in this reviewer's eye. 'The Toxic Touch' met with a few mixed reviews, the album a bit too melodic for some tastes, but there's none of that here. 'Passiondale' is a destructive return to form, calling back to the last album drummer Roel Sanders played on, 'Bloody Blasphemy' (my personal favourite). It's as if he never left, and this album would have fit in just as well being released in 2000 as now in 2009.
This album is a first for God Dethroned, as it's a concept album, based around the Battle of Passchendaele in World War I. Some bands take concept albums over the top, and decide to add extra vocalists and spoken word parts to string together a cohesive story. While I love those types of albums when done right, it would not have felt right on a God Dethroned album and that's why I'm happy they kept it to the well-practiced form they've had for years. Really, the only addition there was to the sound since previous albums was the return of Danny Servaes (who worked with them on 'The Grand Grimoire' and 'Bloody Blasphemy') on keyboards.
'Passiondale' kicks off with "The Cross of Sacrifice", a tasteful, minute long intro that consists of a Japanese woman speaking (in Japanese) over minimal guitar here and there and some background noise, until the pace shifts immediately to hit you in the chest with the battering ram that is "Under a Darkening Sky". There will always be bands claiming that their latest album is a return to the sound of (insert fan-favourite album here), but in the case of Passiondale, with the return of Danny Servaes and Roel Sanders, even from the beginning it truly DOES feel like the proper continuation of Bloody Blasphemy.
One thing of note is that the album was recorded as a three-piece (well, plus the occasional keyboard bits). Guitarist/vocalist Henri Sattler did all the guitars on the album, seeing as how former guitarist Isaac Delahaye departed before the recording of the album (though he did contribute to the research behind msany of the lyrics). The album manages to sound huge regardless, especially with such songs as "No Man's Land", which was a favourite from the first listen.
In a rare feat for albums these days, there really aren't any bad songs on here. In fact, most of these are so good it took me awhile to even decide what my favourite tracks were. The title track, "Passiondale", is one choice I was sure of after a listen or two, more of a mid-paced song compared to the rest of the album. Despite being one of the slowest songs on the album, it is also one of the heaviest and might even be my favourite. It sure does manage to sum up the whole feel of the album as a whole (which I believe all title tracks should), and I'll admit that when I'm by myself I can't help but sing/growl along with this song in particular. Indeed, there is no escape from Passiondale.
God Dethroned put out another monster of an album, as I've come to expect from them. From beginning to end, it's a crushing adventure in brutality and history, telling the tale of World War I as only this Dutch band can. It has it's individually death and black moments, but as it stands as a whole this is a true Blackened Death masterpiece, and if this doesn't end up being one of my favourites for the entire year I will be very surprised.