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More Noodles Than a Cup of Ramen - 76%

Five_Nails, August 21st, 2017
Written based on this version: 2004, CD, Relapse Records

As night fell many ears were already deadened by the flights of fancy endured from deathcore bands, exhausted and ready to be tucked into bed after the sub-culture's flailing temper tantrums with fans constantly brushing swaths of hair out of their eyes and typical foursomes lumbering through four-minute one-note breakdowns. An out of place 1349 then arrived on the stage, shaking the small venue as a mass of devoted metalheads sheared the sinews in their necks and scrambled around a chaotic circle pit, a tribal dance of appreciation for the noise of a band that created a shrill and hollow soundscape compared to its more percussive tour-mates. Five hundred pounds of gleeful man-baby stood at the edge of the revolving mass of primitive human rage, shoving smaller subversives into the reckless whirl as though he was testing the tensile strength of a metal-barred civil suit liability in the center of an elementary school's playground.

Bloodied faces flashed by as injured fans clamored out of the chaos, passing by those committed to flirting with danger and replacing the wounded in the flurry of flesh, sweat, and catharsis. Though most searched for fun, there was always the threat of an unmistakably merciless pummeling, typical in this venue to such disparate crowds embroiled in this chaotic culture. Dying Fetus ensured that merciless pummeling to one attendee, sporting his American Eagle adorned black shirt in an attempt to fit in with the more traditional attire of band shirts and blue jeans. However, it was Necrophagist that caused a most turbulent tumble of Satan's foot-soldiers towards the mercenary's barrier in the hopes of experiencing the liquefaction of their visages from the noble noodler gracing the small stage.

One of my favorite metal memories is headbanging to this band as it shook the rafters in that small dingy venue as part of the aptly titled “Exhumed to Consume Tour”. The intensity was palpable and the chaos was exhilarating as the wall of growling that delivered “Stabwound” hit just like it did on the album, flat and overwhelming with a single note elongated to damage a throat. Aside from the soloing, leads, and vocals, the album version of this repetitious song never managed to punch my heart into submission. The unfortunate reality of “Epitaph” is that this album has a hard time capturing the capricious energy of Necrophagist's music as it contextualizes this latest batch of surgeries from a series of separate recordings in Germany and combines them all together in Florida. Though this album took a village to create, there have been too many cooks in this kitchen dulling the flavor of a product that fails to grow from the intimate sound of “Onset of Putrefaction”.

In the search for clean treble, the production of this album takes things too far. The drum recordings are the most disappointing attribute with such aggressive talent held so deeply in the background that the percussion comes off as a muddy hum compared to a once crisp and dynamic range of sounds. Granted, five years prior the drumming was not organic but that does not excuse the unnerving lack of prominence given to Hannes Grossmann, a human offering more personality than a machine, in an album where the main draw is that the band is able to operate as a unit rather than a basic bedroom band. Moments where Grossmann hurries up the pace of his drumming to lend the guitars an extra energy or takes the opportunity to devastate with a gigantic blast fall flat in the background despite having a fuller and deeper thump in the kicks throughout this album. Where Necrophagist took a step forward in some fresh ideas and in becoming a full compliment, it took two steps back in terms of production, potency, and retaining its impassioned power, a fleeting lightning captured in a bottle and dissipated by the time a new album was on the horizon.

What Necrophagist has to offer in substance gives off the sense that it has streamlined the band's approach, techniques, and draw, showing off a gimmick for expansive human consumption in “Epitaph”. The experiment is over and now the music has become a grind. Still, there are memorable and exciting moments that immediately catch a listener's attention. The intensity of the mid-point onslaught in “The Stillborn One” is exactly what you want to hear when experiencing a Necrophagist song. As expected, the band takes its turn into soloing and beefs up the trills with a fantastic full rhythm change that calls forth nostalgia in its harmonious notes.

Hearing the bass guitar opening getting sliced apart by a blistering harmony of shrill tapping in “Only Ash Remains” shows that in songs cast with new clay, the mold is still very much the same. The guitars opening the song are beaten down by an octopus wailing on the drums and everything is a wild and blistering foray into an incredible rhythm and riff exchange until the almost cabaret guitar closer comes in, totally out of place when the previous pace of the song had such high hopes. Taken from a Prokofiev piece, this ending is more pretentious than eccentric and is an unfortunately overt attempt at directly aligning Muhammad Suicmez's symphonic influences with this modern music. Necrophagist tries something a bit new here and though the ending trips in this mogul, the majority of the song comes across incredibly well.

Funny enough, the ending to “Only Ash Remains” is the first time it has become apparent that just about every Necrophagist song drops off without a clear close. The straightforward and brutal standard of songwriting combined with flourishing middle moments is something that this band attempted to improve on at this stage, and though it awkwardly fell apart in “Only Ash Remains”, the instructional “Diminished to B” uses its fade to work with its slower tempo.

At the halfway point of this album, “Diminished to B” is essentially the thesis in a color-by-numbers song that explains just where each guitar slice needs to be placed to ensure the momentum of Suicmez's style. While it is far less frantic than the majority of “Epitaph”, the drumming ensures the existence of some ferocity to this song even though the soloing portion lacks the luster that other performances bring. For a song that tells you just when to place your hand in and shake it all about, there is a listlessness to the rhythm guitar that takes away some of its panache.

A common element of this album is that whichever guitar takes on the rhythm is loudly playing to the strengths of keeping the song flowing well without tackling the more apparent challenges that past songs displayed. The disjointed rhythms and abrupt changes of “Onset of Putrefaction” had more character going for them, whereas this album has more cohesion. It's really a preference thing as to where you place your chips on this difference. For me, I liked the more disjointed movements of the earlier album because they cut off a limb and let it spurt some color and creativity for a bit rather than started stitching and keeping things too tidy throughout each movement. Rhythm changes in the past were quicker and more adaptable than in “Epitaph”. Here Necrophagist allows itself to tap into each rhythm and ride it for longer than is expected in a style as frenetic as technical death metal. That is where the watering down is most noticeable. There is a deeper focus on shoring up the foreground, but it comes at the expense of creativity in too many places to really manifest greatness. Necrophagist has played it too safe in this album and has come out the worse for it.

Though the main draw to Necrophagist is the electric highs of Muhammed Suicmez's guitar, wailing out those distinctively noodly notes, the underbelly ensured a dynamic second front in each song that is simply not at its best throughout the majority of “Epitaph”. The combination of too quiet a drum sound, too loud a lead focus, and an underutilized bass and rhythm guitar center make for an album where the new bits of experimentation distance themselves from the originality that Necrophagist once harnessed. The focus on a new sheen has walked the meat of the music back towards the band's earliest days with few moments that really wow a listener in this infomercial exercise.

Unfortunately for fans of this technical death metal outfit, the end of its burgeoning career came far too soon with the release of the hit and miss “Epitaph”. The potential and talent exhibited in this album foreshadows a band that could have redefined death metal if it outgrew its moments of banality and further pursued its moments of fresh and bewildering insanity that still mesmerize to this day.

“Epitaph” is too fitting a title for this final Necrophagist release. The band's eventual fall from the graces of many a fan came not with a scream, but a whimper. As the band continued to tour and engage listeners with this eclectic and electric sound for years after its final release, the band's output halted at a divisive destination that Muhammad and company consistently described as a temporary endpoint. What could have been a confluence, where a new direction could have propelled Necrophagist into the stratosphere or left it crashed and burning in the backwoods of obscurity, was merely a curtain call for a band that helped to redefine and divide the destiny of death metal for the better.