The influence of Peter Tägtgren the producer is significant, as he’s helmed some of the most important Scandinavian metal albums of the last 15 years, by such popular acts as Dimmu Borgir, Immortal, Amon Amarth, and Children of Bodom. As for Peter Tägtgren the musician, he and his long-running band Hypocrisy are widely respected, yet despite turning out to be one of the more resilient Swedish melodic death metal bands around, they’ve never seemed to generate either the accolades or the album sales that many of his clients, many of whom are immensely indebted to his production style, have gone on to enjoy. It’s clear he’s fully aware that a true commercial breakthrough will never happen, yet with that comes the comfort in knowing Hypocrisy has its own small niche in the metal world with a loyal following, and Tägtgren and his mates have consistently churned out a total of eleven studio albums now that, while not exactly proving to be as groundbreaking as, say, Slaughter of the Soul or The Jester Race, remain some of the most rewarding examples of “melodeath” you’ll ever come across.
Many continue to consider Hypocrisy’s late-‘90s one-two punch of The Final Chapter and Hypocrisy to be the band’s creative pinnacle, and justifiably so, but with longtime bassist/collaborator Mikael Hedlund and Immortal drummer Horgh in tow, Tägtgren has put together arguably the band’s strongest studio album since those modern classics. It’s one of those cases where we know exactly what to expect: the compositions are stubbornly formulaic, from the song structures, to the guitar melodies, to Tägtgren’s lyrical themes, while his production boasts that blend of crispness and breadth that’s become his trademark. While it certainly doesn’t sound as cutting edge as it did a dozen years ago, it remains a very appealing package, an ultra-slick blend of the accessible and the punishing.
What his us straight away on A Taste of Extreme Divinity is just how prominent those guitar melodies are, especially when compared to Hypocrisy’s last effort, 2005’s Virus. Unlike that otherwise good album, the new disc is loaded with hooks, which coupled with Tägtgren’s knack for well-executed dynamics in extreme metal songwriting, makes this a surprisingly incessant listen. Opener “Valley of the Damned” is a perfect example, the physicality of Horgh’s thrashy double-time tempo, Tägtgren’s layered low vocals and his massive rhythm guitar crunch offset by pristine lead fills swiped directly from Iron Maiden’s oeuvre. Tägtgren has always been one of the more charismatic lead growlers in metal, and his terrific performance leads the way on the very catchy, mid-tempo groove of “Solar Empire”. “No Tomorrow”, meanwhile, is so predictable that in less skilled hands it could easily be dismissed as pedestrian, but Hypocrisy tackle that overdone formula with verve, and it’s easy to buy into it.
Of course, that’s not to say that the band is no longer capable of full-on aggression. In fact, “Weed Out the Weak” is a tremendous exercise in ferocity, Horgh continually upshifting and downshifting, Tägtgren delivering an authoritative growl atop his frenetic tremolo picking and thrash-inspired palm-mutes. Goofy as the title is, “Taste the Extreme Divinity” is as formidable a Hypocrisy track as you’ll ever hear, as potent a blast beat-riddled death metal tune as anything Tägtgren did with his former side project Bloodbath. Still, though, with this album in particular, it always comes back to the melodies, which return in a very strong way on “Sky is Falling Down”, a track that sounds lifted from At the Gates one minute, Iron Maiden’s Killers the next, continually augmented by those graceful guitar flourishes that never fail to get into our heads and compel us to continue to enjoy this reliable, criminally underrated band.