Erik Rutan is one of the most important men in the history of death metal. He has established himself as one of extreme music’s premier producers—having twiddled the knobs for the likes of everyone from MORBID ANGEL and CANNIBAL CORPSE all the way over to SOILENT GREEN, MADBALL and EPHEL DUATH. But he has most significantly left his indelible imprint by virtue of his work as an artist. Rutan was cutting his chops early on with underground legend RIPPING CORPSE before joining genre leader MORBID ANGEL for two separate periods. Yet in spite of the undeniably profound impact and value of the aforementioned two bands, neither project afforded the guitarist the opportunity to lead the charge.

So in the late nineties, Rutan embarked upon a new voyage helming his own ship’s wheel: HATE ETERNAL. The act’s 1999 debut, “Conquering the Throne”, proved true to its name, and Rutan and company tested the limits of relentless, blasting death metal mayhem. Since then, some efforts have been better than others, but the group has never released a bad album, and it’s stayed the course in term of operating as one of the genre’s most belligerent entities. Now, with “Upon Desolate Sands”, HATE ETERNAL has released one of its best albums.

With seven blistering albums over the course of a couple of decades, the lay person, or one not too intrigued by brutal death metal, most likely wouldn’t notice the key differences at hand. In truth, the differences aren’t vast—melodies, tempo changes, et cetera—but certainly impressive for a band that’s almost always firing on all cylinders, in terms of speed and ferocity. While there was a fair share of impressively savage death metal bands in the late nineties, and a seemingly endless amount nowadays, HATE ETERNAL has always stood out because the focal point upon strong songwriting has never shifted. There are no major surprises, but “Upon Desolate Sands” isn’t simply more of the same.

Rutan continues to write songs and riffs that demand your attention. While “Upon Desolate Sands” is technically impressive, Rutan‘s work here can primarily be described as passionate. The legendary guitarist isn’t the only standout on the album, though. German drummer Hannes Grossmann—known for his work with NECROPHAGIST, OBSCURA and the instrumental tech metal supergroup BLOTTED SCIENCE—provides a percussive performance that’s seemingly robotic, appropriately working alongside Rutan‘s intensity.

“Upon Desolate Sands” is cutthroat throughout, like MORBID ANGEL on steroids, yet the band has matured enough over the years to realize that some element of tempo variation isn’t a bad thing. The blitzkrieg of “The Violent Fury” sets the tone for all that follows, while the majestic and evil crunch of “Nothingness of Being” best exemplifies the trio’s (limited) excursion into slower tempo territory, as well as the pensive, ethereal lull of closer “For Whom We Have Lost”. Elsewhere, “All Hope Destroyed” is absolutely twisted and maniacal, replete with an interesting, beautiful guitar solo to round things out.

One knows what to expect, as far as the general framework and sounds, from a new HATE ETERNAL album. But the Florida-based band has returned with a product that proves it is even better than before. And its continuing to do it far better than almost everyone else. That’s if well-composed, passionate brutal death metal is one’s cup of tea, anyway.