It’s a bit of an inside joke around Last Rites World Headquarters that ol’ Andy here only likes bands that debuted decades ago. And, hey, that’s okay — I can take some good-natured joshing… But it’s also kinda true. Paradise Lost, Overkill, Napalm Death, Queensrÿche, Dismember, Fates Warning… These are but a few of my favorite things.
Of course, it’s easy to like the old dogs when they continue to show the young pups the value of experience. Take, for example, Asphyx.
With a lineup that has finally stabilized after decades of constant shifts, Asphyx circa 2021 is a finely oiled machine, settling in for the kill. For this latest release, their tenth album overall, van Drunen admits that the pressure was on to write a record that holds its own with the band’s undisputed classics. To that end, Baayens brought in an assortment of rock-solid riffs that were then hammered into equally solid tracks with the help of bassist Alwin Zuur and drummer Stefan Huskens, the latter now fully pilfered from the recently rejuvenated ranks of Sodom. Shifting gears between the hard-driving heft of “Botox Implosion,” the relentless pound of “Molten Black Earth,” and the sludgy trudge of the massive title track, Necroceros is a beast of a record, and though it may not quite reach the genre-defining heights of The Rack or Last One On Earth, this latest Asphyx certainly stands with the three before it.
Each half of Necroceros is laid out similarly. Each begins with a barnburner of a death metal track, followed by a pair of ball-swinging Bolt Thrower-esque bulldozers, then the least interesting track from each side (here, they feel like throwaways, but both are better than many bands’ best), and then each side wraps with a seven-minute epic-length bruiser. In that sense, at least, Necroceros achieves a sense of parity between the two halves of the band’s equation, between the raging death and the roiling doom, but in practice, it’s in the latter of those two that Necroceros truly shines. Both of those side-closing offerings, “Three Years Of Famine” and “Necroceros,” are clear-cut highlights. Both blend in a slightly increased emphasis on the melodic with the band’s usual world-crushing weight, and both sport the album’s two most noteworthy deviations from Asphyx’s established norm: “Famine” flirts with a clean-tone classical guitar-ish breakdown, while the title track lurches to a start with an almost Swans-esque bass and drum pounding before finally being sucked down into the tar pits. Add to those tracks like the lava-coated crunch of “Molten Black Earth” or the submariner’s tale of “In Blazing Oceans,” and it’s in the mid-paced-and-below numbers that Asphyx’s tightly coiled destructive power truly lies.
Of those immediately previous records, the primary complaint that I remember was that the production was too clean, too shiny, and anyone who felt that way about Deathhammer or the less-shiny Incoming Death may well find themselves in the same boat here. (And that boat will be — and maybe should be — in a blazing ocean, of course). To these ears, the production fits well enough, and it’s certainly no detriment to the songs within — could it be grimier? Most definitely. Does it need to be? Not at all. There’s more than enough punch in these tracks to hammer the point home, over and over, with Baayens’ guitars particularly benefitting from some ten-ton power. Van Drunen’s vocals are just as corroded and rotten-sounding as before, maybe a little more torn and ghastly, as all of us dogs are now just that much older, but that only makes them uglier.
It’s been almost five years since the last Asphyx record — like most of their riffs, they take their time, and like those riffs, when they take a swing, they hit hard. Necroceros is no-bullshit high-quality death / doom, exactly what you’d expect from the band name on the cover. Sit back, young pups, and learn. This is how it’s done.