Friday, June 25, 2010

Hypocrisy - Penetralia (1992)

Penetralia is the debut full-length from Sweden's Hypocrisy. It marks the only time that the band functioned as a five-piece. Released in October 1992, on Nuclear Blast, this album displays a strong influence from American Death Metal. This is credited to Peter Tägtgren's time living in the states. He played with Malevolent Creation for a short time, and it seems it affected his mentality as it regarded songwriting. Still, there is enough here to prove that this Satanic Death Metal album is the work of Swedes.

Despite bearing some characteristics that were already becoming a little too common and generic, by that time, this album features a good number of interesting riffs and manages to keep its head above water. Peter's solos were already distinctive, as he had found his own style. That is one of the things that brings some identity to early Hypocrisy. As far as riffs go, Penetralia is a very dynamic album. There are a fair amount of thrash riffs to be found and, of course, tremolo picking throughout the songs. Already, as would become more evident as time went on, there were some riffs that had more of a Black Metal feeling. It was this combination that really helped establish the dark atmosphere. Most importantly, as is heard on songs like "Impotent God" and "Nightmare", there are slow doom riffs that really create a dismal feeling. Even at this early stage, it is clear that Hypocrisy's moments of brilliance are, often, during the slow parts. This was something not uncommon in the Swedish Death Metal scene, but there was something darker in the way that Tägtgren structured his songs and his lead solos added to this, quite well.

Whereas most bands choose to lead the album off with their strongest song, Hypocrisy's debut appears to build momentum as it goes along, increasing with quality as you get deeper into it. "Jesus Fall" is a good example of this, with a great tremolo riff that would have worked just as well in a pure Black Metal song. The production and deep vocals are the main things that even give this song a real Death Metal feeling.

The vocals are another thing that set Hypocrisy apart from many of their Swedish peers. Masse Broberg didn't utilize the typical style found in bands like Entombed or Dismember, nor really that of Unleashed or Grave. Masse's voice is very rough and, though his vocal style is quite deep, it still possesses a very raw feeling. Compared to albums like Shadows of the Past, by Sentenced, or even Covenant, by Morbid Angel, those vocalists have more of a refined sound to their voices. Interestingly enough, Peter handles vocals on the title track and doesn't sound too far off from Masse, though his efforts prove even more raw and uncontrolled. It's clear why he didn't feel that he would be a suitable vocalist, and only took over once Broberg was kicked out of the band a couple years later.

The production of the album isn't necessarily unique. It's rather standard, almost reminiscent of the Morrisound production style, at times. However, it's a little rougher and this suits it just fine. The fact that so many Death Metal bands were trying to sound exactly the same, around this time, still fails to make sense. In the case of Hypocrisy, it may have been a combination of preferring the American sound as well as not wanting to follow the crowd and record at Studio Sunlight. Based on the style of songwriting, it's quite possible that Penetralia would have sounded similar to Necrophobic's The Nocturnal Silence, if they had gone there. In truth, it might have been an improvement, but there are no real complaints. Speaking of Necrophobic, it is with bands like this that Hypocrisy had more in common with, as opposed to the more popular Swedish bands. Penetralia also shares some characteristics with Nothing But Death Remains, by Edge of Sanity, and Dark Endless, by Marduk.

The song arrangement is another interesting facet of Hypocrisy's debut album. Particularly, the second half of the album really begins to showcase their abilities. One of the highlights has to be the slow section of "Left To Rot", where a doom riff is joined by a cold tremolo riff, coming together to create something very dark and menacing. "Burn By the Cross" builds on this; after some memorable thrash riffs, yet another slow section draws the listener in and really envelopes them in darkness. "To Escape Is To Die", immediately, catches your attention with the melodic lead guitar riffs and dynamic tempo changes. "Take the Throne" is very similar, in that it features some of the most memorable riffs on the album and serves well to create a sense of tension that builds to the climax of the album.

It has to be said, again, that one may think that the higher quality songs should have been spaced out a little better, to give the record more balance. However, the first half is good enough to keep you interested so that, by the time you reach the second half, you are dragged into the abyss and mercilessly assaulted. As you reach "Penetralia", you are weakened and vulnerable to the most intense song of the whole album. After an eerie intro that features some clean guitar and keyboards, the furious riffs are unleashed and Peter's harsh vocals slice into you. The tremolo riffs are incredible and the drumming pounds through your skull. As mentioned earlier, Hypocrisy always had some Black Metal feeling present in many of their songs. By the midway point, another slow riff is introduced, with distant vocals that soon turn into something otherworldly. Some other, demonic, voices then rise up from the depths and are joined by a haunting riff that seeps into your subconscious. There is a brief return to the sounds from the intro, before the speed picks up again and you are exposed to some great lead solos. As the song continues on toward the end, it picks up in speed and you feel as if you might explode. And then, all collapses and it is over... for now.

Looking at it now, the song arrangement was very wise, as it leaves the listener with a very good impression. What Hypocrisy began on Penetralia, they perfected on 1993's follow-up album, Osculum Obscenum. They soon became more comfortable in their sound and found their style, going on to create one of the best Satanic Death Metal albums, ever. It all began here. This is highly recommended to any fan of early 90s Death Metal, as well as those interested in the early works of this band.