Sound — 9
Deriving a massive and undeniable influence from Incantation's classic "Onward to Golgotha," "Purifying Consecrated Ground," released in 2005, was a short EP, which I described elsewhere as sounding like the band was possessed by the devil during its recording. The EP however, did have its limitations. As good as it was, it wasn't much more than a nicer-produced early Incantation EP. "Graves of the Archangels," while still worshipping early Incantation, adds a bit more uniqueness to Dead Congregation's sound, and is a real improvement on what was already a great EP in "Purifying Consecrated Ground." The majestic introduction, "Martyrdoom," resonates evilness and is an ominous pre-cursor for what is to come.
Aside from Incantation, we can see a bit of Morbid Angel in here as well as some doom and black metal influence, although you'd stop short of calling it death/doom or blackened death. It's chaotic and heavy, an apocalyptic atmosphere dominating the music throughout. Thankfully there is minimal use of blast-beats and the music slows down and speeds up at exactly the right places. Dead Congregation avoid the trap of guitar wankery that many death metal bands these days fall into and combine simplistic riffs with dissonant, tremolo picked melodies, the melodies showing just about the strongest black metal influence.
Lyrics — 9
The vocals haven't evolved since "Purifying Consecrated Ground" and they haven't needed to. They're still guttural growls and while they aren't much more than standard, anything else would seem out of place with the music. They blend into the music and become an instrument in their own right, which is or should be the end goal with death metal vocals. Satanism is still the main lyrical theme, along the lines of Incantation, Imprecation and Blaspherion and avoiding the kind of gimmicks that Deicide have popularised.
Overall Impression — 9
I'm yet to hear a better album from 2008 than "Graves of the Archangels." It brings together all the great things about death metal: heaviness, brutality, atmosphere, riffage and avoids all the bad things: guitar wankery, gimmicks, and trying to be too fast. I can't imagine where Dead Congregation will go from here, although it seems they'll be forced to stray from their still-obvious Incantation worship, which could be a good thing and could be a bad thing. If Satanic death metal is your thing, and I don't mean 'I rape angels and burnt an upside-down cross into my forehead' Satanic death metal, Dead Congregation is for you. If you prefer to hear some weird time signature that changes every bar for the sake of it while the guitarist melts his fingers on the fretboard, you probably won't like Dead Congregation. If I lost this CD, I'd definitely buy it again. If it got re-released next week with one 30-second bonus track, I'd probably buy it again.