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I've always wanted to like Necrophagia a lot more than I actually do.
That's not to say that Killjoy hasn't in his own way contributed to the extreme metal culture as a large, he's certainly one of the earlier musicians to cater so much to his cult horror fetish through both his lyrical choices and the samples and intro/interlude bits he collects. He also has one of the more gruesome pure death metal gutturals (and accompanying snarls) you'll hear from those US veterans still kicking about, not as distinct as Speckmann or Tardy or the late Chuck Schuldiner, but still pretty potent. I thought a few of his earlier records were pretty good (Season of the Dead and Holocausto de la Morte, at least), and I also find that I get whipped into a frenzy every time I read about the next disc he's releasing through this band. The cover art is usually campy and fun, the ideas behind it cater to my own nostalgia for both horror classics and their B movie shadows, and when presented with a title like Harvest Ritual Volume I I am insta-triggered due to my love for the autumn season and the once-pagan holiday I so enjoy for both its atmosphere and the activities surrounding it. I truly wanted this to be the Necrophagia recording that finally won me over, but was left hanging...
Similar to bands like Master, or Massacre, or Death, Necrophagia's evolution towards the death metal genre arrived via thrash roots, but unlike those others I just named, the metallic components of Harvest Ritual Volume I remain very heavily balanced in that camp. Extremely simple brute chugging patterns that don't sound like they took a lot of thought or time to craft, with some occasionally breaks into the more morbid tremolo picking we commonly associate as a hallmark of the OSDM style (as in "Dead Skin Slave" or "Return to Texas"). The rhythm tone here has quite a lot of meat and punch to it, but it seems very pit-centric, without interesting note progressions and a few lower bends and fills just to help flesh out the band's aesthetic to a more current brutal flavor. You're really only getting maybe one half-inspired, memorable riff per dozen they fire off, and sadly I find this a common trait for a lot of the records Frediablo has played on. That's not to say it sucks, or it doesn't fit the mesh of mechanics Killjoy is working within here, but at best they only serve as dependable when other things are happening in the tunes, like the 'spooky' synthesizer lines closing out "Unearthed" or the cleaner, eerier guitars dowsed in effects that set up the organs and creepy loops in "Cadavera X".
Another issue I took here was with the vocals. While I appreciate Killjoy's over the top, loudly barking quality, and the lyrics he's spitting are evocative if simple, they often seem far too structured and uninspired in how the syllables are set to the riffs, like clockwork as he's raving between the two inflections. A looser, more raucous approach really seems to work better with this style and would add some desperately needed chaos to the music, for a genuine ugliness. A lot of these tunes just seem too tidy in composition, like he's holding back rather than letting the werewolf out. The drums are simple but powerful, largely just rock laden grooves that hold down the moderate pacing of the songs, but I wouldn't ask for more, since this to me just hasn't been a band about speed, extremity or technique. On the other hand, Mirai's keys are perfectly adequate throughout the entire experience, creating a midway point between progressive influences like Goblin and a more generic but endearing haunted house quality that I just happen to enjoy. But when he's coming up with all this insanity for Sigh, it works because there are also some tremendous guitar riffs woven in and out of the blackened thrash spectacle. Here, he seems like a pylon of pumpkins supporting the stage for a lumbering, monotonous Frankenstein freakshow.
Hell, my favorite track here is "Akumu", pure synth with a lightly pumping bass sound, which feels like what might have occurred if Pink Floyd had scored Halloween instead of Carpenter himself. But then you launch into the following "Stitch Her Further", and the banal chugging of the verses which is lazy at best, or "Excommunicated" which sounds like the same song that had already appeared on the record three times until Mirai's wavering, acidic synth lines burn through the graveyard haze. Harvest Ritual Volume I is an album that wants to be so fun, and comes really damn close, it just needed more time for that thrashing/death foundation to gestate, or perhaps even a different tone with more open, dissonant chords thrust in there to make it more immediately compelling. As it stands, while this isn't the Necrophagia record I like the least, it was nonetheless a letdown. The pumpkins, pentagrams, nooses and crucifixion which grace its cover deserved a little better.
...that was my first reaction when this CD finished. Never had I heard any death metal as well executed as this CD right here. Hell, none of the death metal albums from 90's can compare to Harvest Ritual either! I'm still yet to find even a single death metal album better than this (apart from Seven Churches by you'd better fucking know who). This one is simply everything: heavy, melodic, atmospheric, talented and it's not all about speed at all.
Necrophagia started doing this already in the early 80's with some of the first death metal releases ever ie. Death Is Fun demo (1984) and Season Of The Dead album (1987). Not only is Necrophagia my all time favorite death metal band to begin with but now they've returned pretty much stronger than ever. Harvest Ritual clearly beats down all their previous albums (although they all kick ass!) and it also destroys the entire discographies of Morbid Angel (just fucking quit already, you haven't had a good idea since 1991), Obituary, Master, Massacre and Death (sorry Chuckie but even you couldn't touch this).
To start detailing the album, it all starts with the intro track "The World, The Flesh, The Devil" which is a perfect intro to create the atmosphere for this album. It really has the true horror esque in it with all the spooky sounds and whisperings. And then in about 50 seconds you'll get the blistering album opener "Dead Skin Slave" and the amazing music of Necrophagia shall kick in. This song is fast and heavy as hell yet it keeps up some kick-ass melodies and the almighty ATMOSPHERE. Heaviness, melodies and atmosphere conquer in every single song of the album even without the speed. In fact the only "faster" songs of the album are Dead Skin Slave and Stitch Her Further. It is of course a great thing that Necrophagia can pull it out so well without any super technical and fast shit. A perfect proof that death metal is more than just the speed, Necrophagia prove it even better than Six Feet Under.
The guitar work which is not extremely technical or anything is still full of actual feeling. In this album you'll get some damn heavy guitar tunes such as the palm muted chug chug riffing of "Unearthed" as well as the melodic and very atmospheric riffing of "Excommunicated", "Dead Skin Slave" (verses), and the final track "Harvest Ritual". Couple solos can also be heard even though Necrophagia isn't really a solo band at all, except for the first album Season Of The Dead. Guitar soloing on this album can be heard in the song "London 13 Demon Street" and the very ending of the song "Return To Texas". The production is very clear on this album, in fact it's so crystal clear that you'd never know this is actually an underground band. Guitars have a cool crunchy tone (although they're obviously downtuned), drums sound great and the bass is also quite audible. Not much more to say about the guitar riffing now, not technical yet still very melodic, heavy and atmospheric. Fug and Frediablo surely are amazing musicians just like the entire band.
Then there's the drums. This is now the first album where Titta used triggers in his drums. As everyone knows triggering is pretty much always quite of a minus to the overall sound since the triggered drums sound exactly the same no matter how hard you hit them or at what speed you play them. On this album it's just like that, the snare and bass drum sound are the same in every single hit whether it's a fast part like the song "Dead Skin Slave" or some slower and more calm moment like the keyboard interlude on "Unearthed". But it's no major problem at all. Titta still managed to execute some damn powerful drumming here. Most of his work on Harvest Ritual is "groove metal beats" with powerful double bass usage behind it. Best examples of this are on "London 13 Demon Street", "Excommunicated" and "Unearthed".
And now on the keyboards which definitely go far beyond awesome. Now if Mirai Kawashima is not the greatest keyboardist ever set a foot in the death metal scene I certainly don't know who the fuck is. The spooky keyboard intro of "Cadavera X" (which must be the best song of this whole album) is some of the most atmospheric and melodic keyboard playing I've ever heard in metal. Mirai is certainly the biggest aid in the atmospheric side of Necrophagia. Couple other keyboard highlights on Harvest Ritual are "Excommunicated", "Stitch Her Further", "Unearthed" and specially the interlude track "Akumu". This must be the best interlude track ever put in a death metal album, seriously. The atmosphere is mind blowing on this ambient keyboard track. This track has the very spooky keyboard tune which then transfers into another very atmospheric keyboard handling and some female vocals. I think it is a duet with this chick and the Necrophagia front man Killjoy whispering in the background. You also got to love this lyric they repeat on this ambient song:
"I am your nightmare
All that you fear
close your eyes and
die for me"
I'll tell you, this is the exact definition of atmosphere! Awesome keyboard work from an awesome keyboard player. The track "Akumu" swaps between this and the main keyboard tune for about 2 minutes then it ends. Definitely an awesome ambient song!
And finally, Killjoy and his outstanding death metal scream vocals. Killjoy's black metalish corpse shrieks are probably the best you can hear in any metal. His sound is so pure and so natural. It's like a vomit sounding scream with nothing forced in it. Actually his voice sounds like Maniac on Mayhem's Chimera album...but better. And now on Harvest Ritual his sound is on its best. "The million band man" Killjoy seems to get only better by time since he's clearly outdone himself after the 3 earlier albums of Necrophagia. You can compare his vocals on Holocausto De La Morte to this and you'll see it. Killjoy is certainly my favorite scream vocalist of all time. And not only does he execute amazing screams but he can growl too. This can be noticed on this same CD as well. Killjoy also seems to whisper a lot, such as the songs "Cadavera X" and in the ending side of "Return To Texas" which only helps the atmosphere of this music. He does it like Dani Filth but...you guessed it, better! Killjoy himself also wrote all the lyrics of this album, "Stitch Her Further" with the aid of Joey Jordison who also does a little vocals on this particular song. And as you could guess, the lyrics are pure gold. Look at this part from Cadavera X:
"I dream of demons
Broken wings bleed
I dream of demons
And her touch
I dream of demons
I dream of demons
and demons I fuck!"
Overall Necrophagia is a very, very talented band with brilliant song writing and loads of potential. It's a shame that this band is still very underground even after about 25 years of making music and only a few people actually know who the fuck these guys are. Their music is absolutely amazing and everyone in the metalhead community should get the chance to experience it. Every song on Harvest Ritual is a stand-out track.
This is a flawless album and any possible human who appreciates music should buy this.