Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Label: Century Media
Release Date: February 23rd, 2018
In the larger world of heavy metal, has any genre been more misunderstood, or unfairly maligned than death metal? That’s perhaps debatable, but that’s the question that sprang to my mind when I began digesting Swedish band Necrophobic‘s furious new release, Mark of the Necrogram. On the one hand, some metal purists may have a tendency to dismiss the works of bands like this as cartoonishly violent white noise, while on the other, more openminded metal fans may still find the style itself too claustrophobic and impenetrable, and simply give up trying to get their heads around it.
Mark of the Necrogram is Necrophobic‘s eighth full-length release since forming in Stockholm, Sweden in 1989, and continues the band’s relentless stream of releases (there are also dozens of demos, EPs, and live recordings to their credit). The album marks something of a renaissance for the group, as this is their first album since 2009’s Death to All to feature the same lineup that produced their earlier, seminal classic from 2002, Bloodhymns. That the band has endured numerous lineup changes is no secret to fans of black metal and death metal, but where that kind of tumult would likely produce disappointing output in lesser outfits, Necrophobic has remained that rare breed of band that produces compelling and energetic work, regardless of their line up. Mark of the Necrogam continues this tradition.
Album opener and title track “Mark of the Necrogram” charges out of the gate with athletic drumming and some truly sinister guitar riffs. This track’s well-defined instrumentation and flairs of scalar exotica work perfectly with its superbly delivered vocal, which snarls a nearly breathless apocalyptic prophesy. Some subtle, atmospheric synth work brings to mind flashes of Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd.
Second offering “Odium Caecum” lilts quietly to a start out of the decay of the title track, sounding every inch an infernal waltz, complete with a spellbinding, cleverly unresolved melody, which builds the tension appropriately until a wall of guitars explodes (literally from left to right, across the stereo spectrum) and ratchets into a triple time thrash theme whose taught riffage would have vintage Metallica limping back to the woodshed.
Rounding out the album’s opening trifecta is the track “Tsar Bomba”, a raging slab of hooky, contemporary European metal. Comprised of a galloping verse rhythm and shout-able vocal chorus, this track brings the listener deeper into the band’s production philosophy, wherein each instrument is afforded its own space within the mix. This is a pleasure to listen to, especially with headphones. The song’s abrupt swing into dark psychedelia during the bridge features more beautiful guitar/synth interplay, in the form of churning and questing arpeggios. The use of unexpected instrumental color throughout these opening tracks is refreshing and inspired.
This last is a point worth elaborating upon: the way Necrophobic uses texture and dynamics on this release (as they have previously, to some extent) elevates their music to a place that opens a window into their genre of music. Thinking back to having posited about how death metal is frequently perceived, the band’s careful attention to sonic detail, and also song arrangements, will undoubtedly convert more new fans than could any reiteration of more stagnant or formulaic genre examples.
Later in the album, tracks such as the storming “Lamashtu” and “Requiem for a Dying Sun” further hammer home not only what a great, cohesive record this is, but further, what is possible when the boundaries of a musical genre are nudged outward, ever so slightly.
The album closes on a bit of a down note, in the form of instrumental track “Undergangen”, but it can be forgiven when the preceding 9/10ths of the record is as incredibly good as is Mark of the Necrogram.
Necrophobic‘s propulsive grooves, precise ensemble lockstep, and mastery of dynamics should put this set of ferocious tunes on any serious metal fan’s heavy rotation list.
This is stellar in every way.