Well here’s a nice surprise. First came across Damnation’s Hammer at this year’s Warhorns festival where they played an impressively tight and focused set which went down a storm. I marked them as ones to buy an album by and, lo, here I am with a full CD dropped into my lap! Nice CD too, well laid out. Attention to detail; always a good sign.

From the eerie, winding opening of ‘Temple Of The Descending Gods’ this Northern cult lay out their stall with that same focus I saw live. The riff just thumps down and bites deep. It’s a crisp, glinting production which gives teeth to the riff and still gives bass and drums their respective space to breathe. Sound wise I guess if Celtic Frost had been capable of recording Monotheist in the eighties and had a good production it might have been somewhere close. This is a very good thing, in case you were wondering. There’s the sheer control of Monotheist here, those slightly choppy but huge dense riffs hit with precision but, also, there is the undeniable feeling of something chaotic straining the steel control almost to breaking point. This is aided no end by the distinctive vocals – they waver, curl into a snarl and teeter on the edge of sanity like Abdul Alhazred himself.

We seem to be very much in Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard territory lyric wise with such relentless songs as the punishing ‘Hammers Of War’, wailing lead break cutting through the monolithic riff in maniacal manner. The territory may be familiar but they present it with genuine individuality, the vocals wrapping themselves around convoluted words and syllables with an insane, deliberate, precision. It all comes across as channelling some psychosis, which is such a refreshing change from constant monotone death growls.

Damnation’s Hammer also seem to really be getting the hang of those spaces between sound, the moments where the intensity can be cranked another turn not by piling on the riff, but by sparse bass notes and very judicious keyboards. Listen to the excellent ‘Wolves Of Aquarius’ and ‘Entrance To The Final Chamber’.

This is, nevertheless, a relentless and punishing sophomore album. You don’t get out of here skull intact. They can switch tempos in a moment, mid-paced crush to sudden blastbeat rip, but this technical precision comes without sterility. This is nice and old school roots, pushing the shape with a  modern focus and drive.

This is such an impressive second album. They even sidestep the often followed self-released pitfall of trying to cram too many tracks on. They leave you semi-conscious rather than beat you into a coma. Downsides? Well nothing that wouldn’t be nit-picking – this is one of those cases where any negative comments would be more in the form of “I wonder if…”  or ” Will they do this next album…” rather than any real issue. Maybe I would like to hear them crash into nuclear chaos once, or play around with more stuff like the instrumental ‘The Hex iii’ but that’s just me. Frankly I just can’t wait to catch them live again now I know the songs.

Honestly this is just a fantastic bit of driven, focussed, roaring frosted death metal. Pounding, punishing, precise but with those raw black edges and wings beating the sounds of chaos within. If you don’t buy it, it will just suck you in anyway so why resist?

(9/10 Gizmo)