It's not even halfway through the year and I'm already frantically trying to compile my top albums of the year for my 2017 list. And to be blunt, this Illustrations record has dug into my considerations for the long run. For me personally, originality, lyrical content, production quality, and overall impact are the main factors that sway who I deem as my favorite for the the year. While I very much so enjoy this album, I'll break down more specifically why in regards to the criteria listed above.
Acts of God is the San Antonio-based group's sophomore album with their 2014 debut LP, In Vain, establishing their blackened hardcore sound. With a slight rhythm section lineup change in between releases, the band now holds bassist Carlos Zamora and drummer James Beveridge amongst vocalist Matt King, multi-instrumentalist Nicodemus Gonzalez, and guitarist Cesar Bernal.
Considering this band's unique style, the musical range explored here is immense simply via diversity in instrumentation and tones. First track, "This is the Dark Era," demonstrates this through an effects-laden riff that carries the melodic hardcore foundation along. Another example would be the use of saxophone in "Pestilence" and "War Have Mercy" by Yakuza's Bruce Lamont. And tracks like "Libation" or "A Vacant Stare" are more synth-driven. The inclusion of such instrumentation allows for the band's overall genre to be questionable and impossible to pigeonhole. While pieces likes "Iron Moon" mostly stay true to their original blackened hardcore sound, the stylistic variety on this album evokes other subgenres like industrial, post-metal, death/doom, grindcore, etc. Most importantly, there's not a single song on here that sounds like the one before it, which is something I would consider a rare situation for many metal bands currently.
Regarding the artwork, album title, and lyrical content, the biblical references are consistently present. Although it isn't easy to decipher the lyrics, it seems that vocalist Matt King is likely portraying religion in a negative light. I understand that the theme of a distaste for religion isn't exactly a new direction in the scope of metal music, but Illustrations presents the idea intelligently. There are no sentiments plagued with over-the-top gore or anti-religious preachings. Essentially, the sum of this record infers that there is a poor connotation connected to religion, yet presents such a message with finesse rather than blatant forcefulness.
Surprisingly, Acts of God was recorded through five different sets of hands production-wise. Engineers Chuck Macak (Born of Osiris, Oceano) at Electrowerks Recoding in Chicago, Aaron Bastinelli (Matt & Kim, The Hold Steady) at Big Orange Recordings in Austin, Justin Douglas at Shine Studios in Austin, and the band's own guitarist Nicodemus Gonzalez at Public Profile in San Antonio. The album was then mixed by Gonzalez and finally mastered by Brad Boatright (Nails, Full of Hell). With such a diverse array of contributors to the production, one would assume inconsistency, however this team of individuals somehow creates a very fluid set of twelve songs.
Acts of God is an extremely solid record and if I had to whittle this review down to one word, I'd define the record as simply unpredictable. The dynamics throughout allows for a both mentally stimulating and draining listen. If anything, I would also say that although the instrumental interlude tracks do add to the atmosphere, they are sometimes monotonous when paired besides high-energy pieces. From front-to-back though, this LP provides a musically moving experience that I haven't felt from an album in quite awhile.