Damnum: from the Latin for “harm” or “loss.” In a legal sense, damnum refers to a harm inflicted or loss incurred without bodily injury, but in a linguistic sense it goes much deeper. It represents an aching pain and sorrow, a cruel taking of something, an emotional harm that sits and stews deep and wide. It’s that kind of loss and pain that influenced Colorado’s Allegaeon on this, their sixth full length album. Fueled in equal measures by a renewed sense of creative drive and a profound sense of personal and existential grief, Damnum sees the outfit push against what is expected of them, both from within and without.
Personal and professional changes, both positive and negative, spurred the band into new musical territory in the making of Damnum. Musically, Damnum marks both the first time that all five members of the band engaged in the writing process collaboratively, as well as the debut of new drummer Jeff Saltzman. “This is really the first record where the drummer has written all their parts, instead of us guitar players programming a beat and having our drummer just write their fills,” says guitarist Greg Burgess. Indeed, all five members of the band collaborating together, while being unfamiliar territory and a little grueling at times, seems to have injected this record with a life and memorability that surpasses 2019’s Apoptosis. Conversely, this album is also the band’s darkest, due to the intensely personal nature of the lyrics. “The band experienced a lot of death within our personal lives, and it colored the album,” explains Burgess. In fact, the centerpiece track “Gone Home” is dedicated to two friends of the band who both committed suicide, with the track’s lyrics even featuring words lifted from the notes they left behind. Despite the dark and intense nature of the lyrics, the band (and lyricist Riley McShane) ultimately hopes to provide a sense of hope at the end of the day.
What is immediately striking about Damnum is how it perfectly straddles the lines between crushing heaviness and catchy melodicism. The band has dialed back, although not completely, a lot of the tech influences that put them on the map in favor of more straight-ahead death metal and catchy hooks and choruses. Dual singles “Of Beasts and Worms” and “Vermin” both feature some of the heaviest riffs and catchiest sing-along choruses in the band’s entire repertoire. Overall, the level of variety in texture, tone and feeling is spot on, and the fact that every piece shines through at some point is a testament to the collaborative nature of this record (of course I’m not going to complain about more bass solos). Still, the highlight of Damnum for me is the guitars, and there is plenty to celebrate here in that aspect. The solos are wild and technical, flashy and suitably stunning, and Burgess’s signature classical guitar work still shows up, which is one of the things that I think separates them from the pack. Similarly, Saltzman’s drums break through the mix and showcase his unique flair and passion, a passion for practicing that has definitely been noticed by McShane and the rest of the crew. McShane’s vocals are bleeker, darker and more bellowy than ever before, but the extensive use of clean vocals provides a sharp contrast to this. The dude has range, and while I’m not always a fan of clean vocals in metal, here they definitely add way more than they would normally subtract.
The name of the game on Damnum is progression, and Allegaeon pulls it off in spades. This album somehow sounds more like them than ever while still being a push against conventions and expectations. You really get a full sense of the collaborative nature of this record when you listen to it, and that is both a hard thing to impressively describe and similarly difficult to pull off. Damnum seems to be a turning point for the band, and I think we’re all hoping that this will open even more doors to their future.