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The forsaken have taken the crown. - 93%

hells_unicorn, October 15th, 2020
Written based on this version: 2020, CD, Century Media Records

Often overshadowed by their Norwegian counterparts, the early adherents of the second wave of black metal to come raging out of Sweden were an intriguing lot. Whether it was due to the prominent death metal scene that preceded it, or just an aversion to the ideological orthodoxy that developed as the second wave began to crest just to their west, outfits like Marduk, Unanimated and Dissection came off as less rigid in their pursuit of a darker and more forbidding sound. Another early player in said scene, namely Necrophobic, took this trend of nonconformity a bit further by being one of the earliest acts to break with the characteristic lo-fi and fuzz-driven production practices of the likes of Mayhem and Darkthrone in favor of a more impact-based and dense sound in line with the practices of the day when their 1993 debut offering The Nocturnal Silence was unleashed. Despite a fair amount of lineup instability, this practice of striving for a more polished and also more virtuosic product has stuck with them ever since, and culminated in one of the more impressive offerings to come out of the style in recent memory.

In every sense, 2020’s Dawn Of The Damned is a bleak and disquieting ride through the fringes of black and death metal. Stylistically speaking, it leans a bit more towards the former half of their hybrid approach, listening like a more impact-based, colossal incarnation of the dark yet melodically consonant sound that typified the early 90s 2nd wave sound, in direct contrast to the more death metal-steeped sound that has come to define Behemoth’s latter day sound. But within the context of a black metal album, it incorporates and expands upon many of the remnant death metal characteristics that lingered in certain seminal early 90s classics such as A Blaze In The Northern Sky and Those Of The Unlight. By the same token, per guitarist Sebastian Ramstedt’s own testimony in preparing for this album, an element of older heavy metal styling emerges in the way the lead guitar work deviates from the more chaotic character of a typical death metal affair, often resembling the idiomatic character of such classic shredders as Jake E. Lee and George Lynch, whom Ramstedt cites as among his influences.

When taken as a whole, what emerges is a lyrically nebulous conceptual journey through a series of abstract lucid dreams and meditations, which when combined with a few unconventional musical additives, culminates in an album that is wholly conventional yet highly unique. Following what can be best described as a guitar driven, quasi-ambient prelude dubbed “Aphelion”, which immediately showcases some of the guitar shredder influences mentioned earlier, it basically presents an album equally as bombastic as anything heard out of the likes of Dimmu Borgir or Behemoth, but without the massive orchestral backdrop. The flurry of blast-beat driven chaos that emerges in “Darkness Be My Guide” has all the hallmarks of a traditional blackened affair, but the riff work is far more elaborate, even when compared to the more technically apt material put out by Emperor in the mid-90s. At times, it almost seems as though the band temporarily slips into a melodic death metal pocket, all the while keeping their signature sound firmly at the fore.

As the rest of the album unfolds, it becomes clear that this quintet’s quest for excellence is not hampered by shifting tempos, asides into more subdued territory or varying song lengths. The relatively shorter title offering “Dawn Of The Damned” is a classic example of how a song can be both explosive, shift rapidly, yet be more of a banger with a recurring hook. The moderately long excursions into contemplative oblivion that are “Mirror Black” and “The Shadows” are anything but moderate in their presentation, often cresting and then pulling back above the furious battery of drummer and band co-founder Joakim Sterner’s impressive kit work, and peppered with plenty of flashy lead guitar gymnastics. On the epic side of things are a pair of highly involved sonic journeys in “The Infernal Depths Of Eternity” and “The Return Of A Long Lost Soul” the showcase how a subdued, almost ballad-like atmosphere can work within a blackened aesthetic and still make room for expressive lead guitar detailing, to speak nothing for how each song builds to an explosive point of apex. About the only element at play here that is somewhat static is the textbook sepulchral bark of vocalist Anders Storkirk, which is an appropriate disposition as his black-speech heightens the narrative character of the album.

Rather than being a servant to orthodoxy, this installment of Necrophobic’s moderately prolific career sees them making orthodoxy serve them, freeing themselves up to experiment with a number of peripheral elements and even make some occasional breaks with the norm. It is still an unmistakably familiar experience to anyone who has previously delved into part or all of their back catalog, yet one can’t help but feel some less than subtle innovations taking place on the thrash-infused closing anthem “Devil’s Spawn Attack”, which sees a volley of shred happy lead guitar high jinks accompany a highly flamboyant guest vocal performance out of Destruction vocalist Schmier. Likewise, the overt Middle Eastern underpinnings adorning “Tartarian Winds” are not wholly alien to the black metal style, but the manner in which they are combined with an Immortal-like riffing extravaganza and a side-order of melodeath lead hooks are highly distinctive. It’s definitely among the better offerings to be fielded by this outfit, and also one of the more engaging and accessible offerings out of the black/death hybrid style to emerge in recent years.

Originally written for Sonic Perspectives (www.sonicperspectives.com)

Necrophobic - 94%

Felix 1666, October 10th, 2020
Written based on this version: 2020, CD, Century Media Records

Band? Institution? Legend? Decide for yourself, but one thing is for sure: Necrophobic do not need to fear any competitor. Since aeons and as mentioned already in a previous review, the Swedish throne of black death metal is fiercely contested, but Dark Funeral are always sleeping too long (one album in the last ten years!), Marduk have many brilliant works, but also a few less strong outputs and Eurynomos or Possession are great, but not Swedish. So maybe it’s Necrophobic who are one step ahead of their brothers in spirit? We do not need to find the ultimate answer to this question, let’s just put the spotlight on the different facets of the five-piece, for example…

…their line-up. It has been more or less stable since the overwhelming “Mark of the Necrogram”. Only the man at the bass guitar is new and Allan Lundholm fits neatly into the formation. Of course, we can miss Alexander Friberg who has been part of Necrophobic already on their masterpiece “Death to All”. Yet it is of higher relevance that main composer Sebastian Ramstedt still stands firmly on the navigation bridge. The man who has already written almost the entire album from 2018 guarantees a high standard and a close connection between “Dawn of the Damned” and its older brother. Nevertheless, there is a surprising element concerning the contributors of the brand new album. Necrophobic invited Destruction’s Schmier to shout some lines of the closer. Honestly, I am astonished. It feels like Bayern München, the European football kings of 2020, asks a player of my favourite team (FSV Frankfurt, fourth-class, it’s truly sad!) to join their team. I mean, does anybody remember the last strong full-length of Destruction? Once they were kings, but everything they released after “All Hell Breaks Loose” was mediocre or worse. Inter alia the track list of their recent live album indicates that this formation lives in the past. Necrophobic is the exact opposite. The Swedes release new classics with nearly every new album. “Dawn of the Damned” marks no exception to this rule. (And only to stay fair: Schmier performs well here and naturally he delivers some high-pitched screams. Nevertheless, it’s the fiendish charisma of Anders Strokirk that fits perfectly with the music of this black death bastard.)

…the wickedness of their material. Necrophobic have always optimized their sound in order to combine pure evil with a gargantuan musicality. There is not the smallest tinge of thoughtlessness or even stupidity in their compositions. Everything sounds unholy yet smooth at the same time, vehement yet sublime, ruthless yet mature. Perhaps Ramstedt and his colleagues are not among the most spontaneous bands of the universe, but they are also light years away from an academic approach. Moreover, their wicked songs have almost magical powers – as soon as I hear them, they seem to become a part of me. A very little part I cannot see or touch but feel. If am not able to write music, but otherwise I would try to compose exactly the kind of terrifying sound Necrophobic create with great ease. Their best songs unleash all demons I know in music. No doubt, this quintet guides you safely to the godless core of (extreme) metal.

…the songs themselves. Where to begin? Well, “Mirror Black” fascinates with its howling guitars that make not only sensitive persons shiver – and its merciless “Fall… fall… fall… fall” echoes embody pure cruelty. Songs like the title track or “Darkness Be My Guide” stand in the tradition of killers such as “Sacrosanct” or “Crown of Horns”. They are characterised by their ingenious flow and their strict, sparks-flying velocity. But of course, they are not one-dimensional. Necrophobic master the art to integrate less neck-breaking sections without hurting the violent aura of these eruptions in any way. By contrast, “Tartarian Winds” marches stoically through mid-tempo regions and its guitar work flirts with the charm and the riffing of “Blood Fire Death” (the title track) or “Enter the Eternal Fire” – of course without being a stale copy of these classics. Its predominantly less rapid approach is not at the expense of the song’s heaviness. Quite the opposite: just like many pieces here, it develops an abysmal, enigmatic depth. And of course I cannot write this review without mentioning the two monumental tracks which cross the seven minutes mark. “The Infernal Depths of Eternity” holds many speedy sections, while “The Return of a Long Lost Soul” shows a more epic side of Necrophobic’s art. But the best is: both are simply excellent. Yet I could mention each and every track, even the stage-setting intro; all pieces add value to “Dawn of the Damned”. Or to express it with the words of a good friend of mine: “there is no bad surprise, just quality.” I totally agree.

…the production. Do I really need to emphasize that it is immaculate? Fredrik Folkare has done a great job again. He was already responsible for the sound of “Mark of the Necrogram” and I guess he left the studio after the recordings in 2018 very satisfied, because the mix of “Dawn of the Damned” lies in close proximity to that of its predecessor. Furthermore, the album spreads identical vibes. Right here and right now is the moment for some grumpy clowns to stand up and to moan about stagnation. Dear clowns, you are just assholes. Let me explain. Folkare saw obviously no reason to change the perfect sound and I am glad that he did not seek new ways as an end in itself. This dude was a good guitarist on “Womb of Lilithu”, but he is an outstanding sound engineer.

…the stamina of the band. Nine albums in 27 years speak a clear language, but this is just a quantity key figure. More important is that the Swedes still act absolutely authentic after all these years and the leather and spikes appearance of the long-haired envoys of darkness underlines their integrity impressively. Okay, drummer Joakim Sterner is bald, but he is the only constant in the history of the band and therefore he is at least long-haired in a figurative sense. Hairy matters aside, how can we call Necrophobic? It’s surely not “just another band”, but it is also no institution and even the word legend seems too small for them. So let’s just use their name. Necrophobic – these eleven letters stand for themselves and they alone make clear that we are listening to the elite of the elite.