It’s always baffling hearing genre purists wax lyrical about the ‘golden age’ of early ’90s black metal. To see eyes glaze over with yearning and nostalgia at the mere mention of these bygone days of uncompromisingly raw and visceral extremity. A decade punctuated by violently destructive lashings of fiery arson and senseless bloodshed, characterised by a sound that famously revelled in its own notoriously primitive component parts. Almost as though primal, rough-hewn simplicity was, in and of itself, the sole, sought-after virtue that could not only guarantee a band kudos and respect in blackened circles but, almost three decades later, go on to cement their reputation as the reigning gods of ‘trve cvlt black metal’. Trve enough, perhaps… at least for those of us content to settle for a formula that’s as tediously unvaried and colourless as the genre’s famously monochrome, trademark aesthetics.
But for listeners seeking something with a touch more vision and intelligence, this – happily for our purposes – is precisely where Swedish genre luminaries Necrophobic come in, having spent the better part of the past three decades striving in relentless pursuit of a sound that’s as viciously energised and laden with searing, technical detail as it is swimming in blackly grandiose atmospherics. In 2018, this wondrously infernal collective more than abundantly illustrated their success in realising these lofty ambitions with critically lauded long-player ‘Mark of the Necrogram’. A mere two years later, and theirs is a towering presence that outstrips every single one of its earlier predecessors in more ways than you could possibly imagine. And so, on that exceptionally effusive note, let’s take a closer look at the darkly immersive host of horrors contained within 2020 epic ‘Dawn of the Damned’…
Having already savoured a tantalising, coal-black morsel or two of this anticipated full-length in the months preceding its release, the sheer sonic enormity illustrated even within this modest smattering of tracks is pretty staggering by all accounts. We had, first, the violently energised feast of frostbitten carnage that was blistering summer single ‘Mirror Black’, its insanely technical lashings of abrasive riffage being matched with a wealth of darkly absorbing atmospherics. From flesh-scalding accents of tremolo that bristle with hostility to luxuriantly elongated whorls of endlessly reverberating distortion, there’s no mistaking the impeccable arrangement underlining this meticulously handled record. Instrumental in the making of its collectively immense and electrifying presence, too, is the excellent production value we’ve long come to associate with this prestigious circle of seasoned players.
But it is, without question, epic follow-up ‘The Infernal Depths of Eternity’ that illustrates the full, staggeringly expansive scope of exactly what Necrophobic are capable of achieving circa 2020. Together with precisely the sort of finely-honed expertise that comes of many years of relentlessly industrious activity both in and out of the studio, this is a track rich with evidence of founding guitarist Sebastian Ramstedt’s recent, painstaking work in pushing and progressing his musical skillset as far as imaginably possible. And how richly expansive a repertoire he’s succeeded in honing, with a standout track that here luxuriates in blackly grandiose layerings of stratospheric guitar that echo and unravel ghoulishly into the void before letting loose in a blinding implosion of percussive brutality. Demonstrating seamlessly fluid transitions back and forth between synapse-scorching feats of insanely technical fretwork and lofty flurries of panoramic riffage that positively ooze ritualistic majesty, ‘…Eternity’ finds Ramstedt and co. at the towering pinnacle of their compositional powers. Insofar as variety and atmospheric intensity is concerned, seven-minute epic ‘The Return of a Long Lost Soul’ makes for equally awe-inspiring listening. With its handsomely expansive lashings of sleek, ‘Lawless Darkness’-era riffage enveloping the listener in its deathly embrace before hurling us headlong into a stupefying vortex of hyper-blasting aggression, this is a track lavishly steeped in infernal grandeur. Picking up from here on a rather generic, thrash-heavy note, ‘Devil’s Spawn Attack’ is something of an anticlimactic follow-up to this darkly euphoric masterpiece but, with more than a few pleasingly energised and abrasive merits to recommend it, makes for a nonetheless solidly entertaining piece.
Together with the record’s violently energised and impeccably razor-sharp technical assets, there is, in the same breath, a deeply disquieting sense of darkness at work here throughout – the unmistakable, coldly glimmering aura of something decidedly not of this world. Indeed, be it in ‘…Lost Soul’s’ dusky undertow of thornily abrasive tremolo and half-whispered incantations or the great, lacerating crescendos of guitar that preside over ‘Darkness Be My Guide’ like tremendous, lashing tongues of infernal fire, this is by far Necrophobic’s most thoroughly accomplished and compelling outing yet.
'Dawn of the Damned' is out now via Century Media