God Dethroned - Passiondale (Metal Blade/Riot)

Concept album done right? You'd better believe it.
Release Date: 
28 Apr 2009 - 1:30am

The ninth studio album from Dutch band God Dethroned, Passiondale, is a concept album based around World War I - specifically, the Belgian town of Passchendaele where over 90,000 solders lost their lives during 1917. But don't switch off just yet - far from the overly long, self-indulgent wankery that characterises the typical concept album, Passiondale crosses the finish line in just 38 brutal minutes with compact, fast-paced and thoroughly enjoyable death metal.

The opening track sets the scene with a minute of marching, gunfire and whisphered narration over quiet guitars - but then it's straight into the driving speed of Under a Darkening Sky and No Man's Land. The sound is full and meaty - Roel Sanders' drumming and Henke Zinger's bass combining to create a solid bottom-end. Henri Sattlers' guitar lines ride over this - the frontman recording both rhythm and lead guitars between the departure of previous guitarist Isaac Delahaye and the arrival of Susan Gerl. Additional melodic and atmospheric support comes from keyboardist Danny Servaes, who last lent his talents on The Grand Grimoire and Bloody Blasphemy albums.

Sattlers' barked but intelligible lyrics are mostly narrative - but where a more personal perspective is required, clean vocals from Marco van De Velde from The Wounded are employed as the voice of an unknown soldier. The first instance of this is Poison Fog, the longest track on the album at over six minutes, which also brings the keyboard to the top of the mix.

Title track Passiondale is easily the best song on the album, changing what has so far been a furious pace to a slower, sparser, almost doomy dirge that begins with a military tattoo. 'No escape from Passiondale,' intones Sattler in the chorus - a phrase that effectively sums up the grim theme of the album. The horrors of WWI are often overlooked compared to the massive scale of depravity evidenced in WWII, but it certainly wasn't a cheerful time in history and it's surprising that more metal bands haven't taken inspiration from it.

No Survivors, with the unexpected return of the unknown soldier's clean vocals, Behind Enemy Lines and the depressing Fallen Empires step the pace up once more as the album rolls on to its conclusion - a instrumental military anthem entitled Artifacts of the Great War which, as it fades out, balances the opening mood-setter.

Given God Dethroned's numerous changes in lineup and style, Passiondale stands out for it's classic feel - there's nothing trend-driven here, just solid, fast songs. The subtle elements brought in with the keyboards and clean vocal sections are not overused and overall, this would have to be the most successful execution of a concept album in metal that I can think of.

God Dethroned's Passiondale is out now on Metal Blade/Riot.