A colorful resume often means diddly squat in the death metal scene. It's not unusual for a musician with ten years worth of thrashing experience (or more) to have failed to progress in both their musical and songwriting skills one iota, despite incessant touring and 2-3 albums a year (counting side projects, and of course who doesn't have at least one side project these days?)
Sometimes it's not necessarily the musician's fault: it may be that their glory in previous bands was due to a progressive chemistry amongst the band members, rather than individual talent, making the individual's subsequent letdown more a result of unrealistic expectations than failed artistic pretensions. At the end of the day, who really cares? We want good shit, and we want it now!
So what do we expect from a band that features Michael Amott (Carcass, Carnage), his brother Chris (Armageddon), old Carnage bandmate John Liiva, and ex-Eucharist drummer Daniel Erlandsson? Well, I guess anything from Entombed wannabes to Carcass clones.
What we get is something that's a little of both, but a lot more. After a fairly expendable first track ("Beast Of Man") the record kicks into full swing with the title song "Stigmata". This starts off with some heavy Entombed style riffing with Chris soloing melodically over the top, reminiscent of old Metallica and Megadeth in both sound and quality of performance. The whole track turns out to be basically nothing more than a tasteful intro to "Sinister Mephisto", which, despite a cheesy title and simplistic vocal delivery, rocks in latter-day Carcass style with tough, catchy riffs.
The guitars continue to take center stage throughout the rest of the album, excepting "Vox Stellarum", a thoroughly impressive piano showpiece which is midway through joined by more melodic guitar soloing; this song is reminiscent of the type of dreamlike epic typified by "Majestic", the song Journey used to use to open their concerts (an odd comparison, but it works). I'd also be amiss if I didn't mention "Black Earth" as an album highlight, though it follows the same description afforded the above tracks.
All in all, this is possibly the best attempt at melding modern death metal and 80s thrash that I have yet heard. The Amott brothers occupy a unique spot amongst guitarists, as many are recently expressing the desire to pursue a more melodic vein of playing yet few come up with the instantaneously classic riffs which are found on Stigmata. Look for this one on several year end top ten lists; it's a keeper!