[Artwork by Necrolord]
Consistency is obviously ideal and a noble goal for anyone producing a consumable product, including music, but even that eventually wanders into an unfavorable light if the dreaded s-word, stagnation, rears its ugly head. Countless long-standing bands have survived and fought valiantly under such scenarios for reasons as long as your arm, but the public maintains a mostly positive attitude about the “consistent” consequence because, 1) being steady is clearly preferred to alternative, and 2) consistency keeps a band alive, dedicated, and (Earth eventually willing) on the road.
Here’s the hitch, though: Despite the truth that we’re enduring amidst the worst year this planet has seen in a great many decades, the crop of art being produced across the board in 2020 is through-the-roof-good to a point where “consistent” becomes not quite great enough if, say, a band hopes to offer a new release that truly manages to shine with long-term effect. Our heavyverse is certainly no exception, providing an absurd excess of stellar albums in 2020 that nearly defies logic. Consequently, a band that’s been kicking out refreshingly consistent, notably good records for decades—Necrophobic, for example—better bring the damned fire if they expect to ping the communal heavy metal radar in 2020 and make waves instead of ripples.
Necrophobic: “Hold my demonically bejeweled goblet of beer…”
Full-length number nine from Sweden’s longstanding purveyors of death / black metal (yesteryear) // black / death metal (nowadays) definitely pings the radar. Or at least it should.
Now, I ain’t about to say that 2013’s Womb of Lilithu completely missed the mark, but it did make an album like Mark of the Necrogram five years later feel like a significant comeback, both because of the latter’s quality and because the band managed to re-net vocalist Anders Strokirk from the Nocturnal Silence days (after booting Tobias Sidegård for a heinous domestic violence charge) AND guitarists Sebastian Ramstedt and Johan Bergebäck following their respective 5-year hiatuses. Going back to Mark of the Necrogram today and stacking it next to this record? I wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable referring to it as a warm-up, but it does feel like Dawn of the Damned achieves the next level of triumph that the previous record put into motion. In clearer terms, this album is more melodic, more dynamic and catchier. Because of this, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see some diehards attaching the phrase “a little more commercial” to the bumper, but whatever. If you happen to be sensitive or averse to things like oodles of lovely melodies lifting infernal odes to eternal iniquity into an open sky, or happily singing along and toe-tapping to choruses such as “DEATH… Unchain the beast! DEATH… as the fire within is released,” then you might not be the intended target for Necrophobic in 2020.
A lengthy track like “The Infernal Depths of Depravity” gives Necrophobic ample room to flaunt the many strengths they’ve honed after being in the game for the better part of the last three decades, but beyond the perfect fluidity and sheer catchiness of it all, it’s the weight of that stunning lead guitar work that crops up around 3:50 and the manner in which the song closes that brings a terrifically satisfying sense of beaming radiance and an underscored appreciation for warmth to the foreground. The likewise lengthy “The Return of the Long Lost Soul”—perhaps the strongest cut on the record—does similarly, but with a more sinister tone that revisits the Middle Eastern intimations the band has employed in the past with improved efficiency.
True to the style and Necrophobic’s longstanding methodology, no song pushes the blistering or the slower / mellower stretches to excess, opting instead for a comprehensive vigorous gallop that splashes into both ends fairly judiciously, and often in the same song. The result is a well balanced amalgamate that often comes across like the fiery, bedeviled rival to modern-day Immortal’s icy attack, particularly on great songs like “Tartarian Winds” and “Darkness Be My Guide.” The immutable factors, however—all that melody, those wonderful leads and the fresh appetite for a vocal hook—are present front to back on Dawn of the Damned, and the production provided (once again) by Fredrik Folkare (Unleashed, Dead Kosmonaut) brings everything to light in a wonderfully clear manner that never fully washes away the smoky eeeevil.
Is Dawn of the Damned the type of record capable of pushing Necrophobic to a new level in terms of a wider fanbase? Given the right push, it has the potential. You’d have to at least have an appreciation for iniquitous metal that’s unafraid of leather pants, though. Speaking frankly, this sort of release should appeal to most anyone who was first drawn into the genre because of its penchant for wickedness heaped with tight melody and a distinct hook. In that way, Dawn of the Damned shows a traditional heavy metal face without sounding at all like “trad metal,” if that makes sense. In essence, if you dig bands like latter-era Immortal, Katavasia, Nifelheim and the like and have still somehow managed to miss the Necrophobic boat, this is the perfect place to jump in. And if you’ve been there since day one and look forward to each new Necrophobic release with a wraith’s craving, this album is sure to hit the spot.