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fretboard wizardry... - 94%

krozza, October 6th, 2004

Some five years ago, a guy by the name of Muhammad Suicmez released ‘Onset of Putrefaction’ (Velvet records) – working under the band name ‘Necrophagist’, the album was hailed as an underground classic, although it basically went unheard by 90% of the genre’s fan base. Now signed to the mighty Relapse roster, Necrophagist have returned with a full line up and with what is possibly the progressive death metal album of the year in album No.2, ‘Epitaph’.

Quite understandably, particularly in the death metal scene, there is a mighty buzz about Necrophagist. To make it perfectly clear about the quality of band we’re talking about here, let me mention a few names: Death, Morbid Angel, Cynic, Pestilence and Athiest. If you know your Death Metal, you know that each and every one of those bands are utterly revered for their amazing ‘technical’ proficiency and willingness to embrace a more progressive element in their music. Necrophagist play in the same ballpark. In fact, so good are they, they’re batting 1000!!

Necrophagist are super fucking technical punters. Not just odd timing or strange riff patterns, but extremely fucking hard to play, technical death metal. Your average death head wannabe would curl up in a corner in convulsions at the prospect of ever getting near the kind of musicianship captured on ‘Epitaph’. It’s fast, unrelenting and layered with unexpected twists and turns throughout its entire journey.

The guitar virtuosity (not to mention the awesome bass playing!!) displayed by Muhammad Suicmez and his more than dexterous offsider Christian Muenzner is insane - Jaw droppingly so. Folks, I continually marvel at some of the lead work that the late Chuck Schuldiner laid down on the last few Death albums – well, Suicmez is in the same league as far as fret work wizardry goes. Seriously, Suicmez is an outstanding lead guitarist – his solos have that ‘neo-classical’ feel about them, but emotively they’re more in tune with Chuck Schuldiner than anything like Yngwie Malmsteen. Some people might accuse Suicmez of gratuitous self indulgence such is his penchant to rip off leads whenever possible – but personally, as the album is so short (eight tracks at 33 minutes) I think his work actually sounds remarkably controlled and perfectly placed within the context of his compositions.

Aside from the head spinning musicianship displayed on ‘Epitaph’, perhaps the real clincher for this album is that Necrophagist are also able to make their music work as coherent and accessible songs. Everything seems to fit – furthermore, it’s remarkable that considering the progressive nature and intricate execution of their music, much of it is also decidedly catchy and rhythmically appealing. Ultimately for me, ‘Epitaph’ has that real ‘Death’ vibe about it (circa ‘Symbolic and ‘Sound of Perseverance). If you love those two albums, ‘Epitaph’ is essential.

What about the vocals? Well, ultimately this is a death metal album. An extremely powerful and intricate one, but nevertheless it is a Death Metal album. So, as far as vocalizing goes, you’ve got Suicmez delivering your regular cookie cutter growling in true Karl Sanders (Nile) style. Sure, this aspect is Necrophagist at its most generic (and possibly lackluster), but the truth of the matter is that it’s actually not all that important. Such is the musical emphasis of this album, ‘Epitaph’ could have been released ‘vocal-less’ and it would have mattered nought.

There is no doubt that Necrophagist have unleashed a sure fire Death Metal classic in ‘Epitaph’. As a statement for technical, progressive death metal, it doesn’t come any more succinctly that this. And as luck would have it (or via the brilliance of label marketing), just in time for the release of ‘Epitaph’, Willowtip records (USA) has re-mastered the debut ‘Onset…’ disc and released it with new artwork and 2 bonus tracks. I can’t say anything more than BUY or DIE!!