Hate Eternal frontman Erik Rutan may have the strongest death metal pedigree of any living human. He’s probably best known these days as the driving force behind Florida’s well-regarded Mana Studios, where he’s engineered albums by such extreme-metal mainstays as Cannibal Corpse, Goatwhore, Vital Remains, and Tombs. (Plus, uh, the Mountain Goats.) But for death metal dorks, Rutan’s discography as a musician far outshines his considerable recording prowess. After earning his bona fides playing guitar in the short-lived but wildly inventive early DM act Ripping Corpse, Rutan spent several years in and out of death metal OGs Morbid Angel, where he effortlessly traded leads with MA mastermind Trey Azagthoth — who’s arguably the genre’s premiere soloist — and contributed songwriting to the great mid-period albums Domination and Gateways to Annihilation. Between those late-’90s stints, Rutan founded Hate Eternal, whose five albums since have established a gold standard of intensity by which countless younger bands have measured themselves.
Indeed, Hate Eternal’s singleminded dedication to their approach — speeding up classic American death metal to tendonitis-baiting BPMs, spiking it with murderous dissonance, and performing the resultant compositions with OCD precision — has proven both an asset and an albatross in recent years. Though Rutan and company have retained a dedicated following throughout their run, the popular conversation around death metal has come to ignore the genre’s more extreme and brutal fringes in favor of old-school throwbacks and progressive curios. At this point, technically inclined but straightforward death metal is so unhip that this legendary band may actually be under-rated as they enter the album cycle for Infernus, their sixth LP.
Not that I suspect Rutan or his bandmates care much about year-end plaudits or drifting listener preferences — they labor solely in service of their own demanding vision. Hate Eternal’s lyrics and iconography have always revolved around power and self-sufficiency; their first three albums are titled Conquering The Throne, King Of All Kings, and the fan-favorite I, Monarch. These same autarchic concerns characterize Rutan’s creative approach, too. He’s recorded all of Hate Eternal’s albums on his own, and when you read interviews with him about his process, you get the sense that his faster-louder-tighter ethos is driven by an unrelenting urge to push himself beyond his own limits, like a powerlifter or an endurance athlete.
And if I’m reading these motives correctly at all, Hate Eternal should be very pleased with Infernus. Incredibly, this may their fastest album to date, thanks to a jawdropping performance by new skinsman Chason Westmoreland. His blinding speed will no doubt please HE’s many technique-oriented fans, but it’s the songwriting here — which is their strongest since I, Monarch — that should really get people excited. Hate Eternal may be standard-bearers for the mindblowing physicality of ‘modern’ death metal, but their successes have all relied on catchy, traditionalist songcraft. “The Stygian Deep” throws this essential element of the HE sound into stark relief. It’s got no shortage of crazy blasting and shredding, but all the brutal noise serves to drive home the somber melodic sensibility that has subtly colored Hate Eternal’s sound since the beginning. And Jesus Christ, the fucking riffs — this is what death metal is all about. Listen.
Infernus will be out on 8/21 via Season Of Mist. Preorder it here.