A brief roundup of some more doings in British extreme metal in the late 2010s. As ever, unapologetically Northern-centric.
Is it just me, is black metal less preoccupied with the whole ‘elitism vs. sellouts’ thing? Aside from swivelled internet dwellers and the tired memes that prey upon them, I’m seeing more of a live and let live attitude these days. Better yet, the legacy of Emperor has been reclaimed from the never-ending cheese wagon; it seems people have remembered that you still need music of substance behind your big budget productions, otherwise all is smoke and mirrors hiding, something that does not exist.
Enter Necronautical with their third LP ‘Apotheosis’. Bucking the recent trend in the north of England for understated folk metal such as Winterfylleth, Wodensthrone, and Scotland’s Saor, Necronautical prefer to look further north to Scandinavia for their muses. Make no mistake Darkthrone fans, this is a slick, polished album of ear candy black metal. At an aesthetic level it has more in common with Dimmu Borgir than anything else. However, did you ever listen to Dimmu Borgir and hear a neat riff or refrain and think ‘damn, that’s pretty good, it’s just a shame it’s buried in this warm diarrhoea of an album’?
Fear not, Necronautical are here to help. It’s not anything a fan of melodic Scandinavian death/black metal hasn’t heard before, but they do a good job of tying their compositions together with a narrative thread that avoids excess cheese along the way. They are not afraid to slow proceedings down to doom metal pacing when in suits, rightly showing faith in the power of their melodies to stand alone without the crutch of speed thrills. This is aided by the expressive yet understated drumming of Slugh, who has proved himself to be much more than a colour by numbers skin basher.
Although this could broadly be described as symphonic black metal the keyboards are largely there to provide additional texture. They opt for subtle synths and strings that add emphasis to the ringing guitar chords or additional drama when necessary. Vocals are relatively high in the mix. Naut delivers them with the requisite passion expected of this melodramatic metal, utilising a range of pitches and dynamics along the way.
But the real stars of the show are the guitars, in particular some deliciously constructed leads that one cannot help but be carried along by. Necronautical are masters of the art of melody construction, and despite working within some well-trodden conventions in this department, one cannot help but admire the finished product. They are also adept at treating their music as a cohesive whole, fully utilising the power of rhythm and texture to accent said melodies. It may be ear candy, but one would be hard pushed to find a more intelligently constructed and pleasing finished product.
Yorkshire death metal veterans return with 2018’s ‘Lust of the Goat’. With Dan Mullins of My Dying Bride and Monolith Cult fame now on board, the tight rhythm section provides the foundation for this razor sharp yet bang-average album. Credit where it’s due, this is energetic, bouncy death metal that is expertly executed. But one cannot ignore the fact it slumps into that fine British tradition of second tier death metal a-la Cancer or Benediction.
On a technical level it is to be admired, but this is not enough to elevate it to anything other than a curiosity for death metal aficionados. I would go further. I would say that it’s a real shame that such high-quality component parts should put in service of an effervescent nothing. For that reason I will fast run out of things to say about it.
It is fast paced and thrashy, and certainly competently played, boasting an almost machine-like precision. But the finished results is yet another return to the old school. I speculate that even if this was released during the era that it references it would not have made much of an impact. A generic mix of riffs and chord progressions are put through the mincer of ample tempo changes which cut through each track, lending mild intrigue before wheeling out a completely unremarkable solo, which usually does its job of raising the tension level to mild, before bringing things to a conclusion. Vocals are a mid-range death growl, pitched just perfectly in the crystal-clear mix, allowing all lyrics to be heard clearly.
I really don’t want to lay into this too vehemently, because I have enjoyed listening to this album. But that enjoyment only extends as far as admiring a skilled craftsman at work. Maybe ‘Lust of the Goat’ just dropped at the wrong time. Maybe we are reaching old school revival fatigue. I have certainly enjoyed it as an antidote to what I would call the ‘wrong’ kind of progressive metal. And certainly on the black metal side old school revivalism has gone some way to purging us of the blackgaze snoozefest. But in reconnecting with our roots it’s important that we don’t simply settle for repeating the same thing over and over. LOTG is just the next album in a long list of albums from bands new and old that have referenced that sweet spot between 1985 to 1993. It’s far from the worst such example, but it’s release coincides with a renewed sense of forward purpose within metal to find and shape our future.
Slimelord are a new death/doom outfit made up of members of Leodensian tech death masters Cryptic Shift. Their debut EP ‘The Death Delta Sirens’ no doubt owes a debt to overlords of the genre Incantation, but even within this handful of tracks Slimelord have carved out a niche of their own within this style. Although the opening ambient piece ‘Insecloid – the Summoning’ is vaguely reminiscent of ‘The Quest of Absurdity’ on ‘The Rack’, the meat of this work takes its cues from Incantation via the chasmic, spacious atmospheres of dISEMBOWELMENT.
Death/doom metal is one of those styles that lends itself to sloppy playing. But this approach is sometimes cheap to those who can afford, very expensive to those who can’t. We know from Cryptic Shift that these boys are highly competent musicians; and there are obvious instances of hi-fidelity musicianship that elevates this music above their peers. For example, John Riley’s intricate bass lines that sometimes cut through the thick layers of ringing guitar chords with flourishes designed to accent the moment. There is also a coherence and unity to the structure of these tracks that indicates knowledge of the dark arts of music theory.
An opening groove overlaid with a basic guitar lead will feed into a riff that informs the rest of the piece, one guitar will then break away into a very basic melody that at first feels like an afterthought; until it becomes the linchpin of the entire structure to follow. Towards the end of the piece everything is then reconstructed around the opening riff, sometimes with the drums playing double speed.
Although this structure is somewhat typical of doom metal, Slimelord have plenty of unique and eerie refrains that jump out of the swamp of noise at unexpected points to hold the attention. The music holds up its own right without over-egging the whole doom thing. Rather than using a doom breakdown to inform the structural collapse and rebirth of a track, the riffs themselves will determine this, with rhythm and tempo changes falling at unexpected junctures.
Despite there being only three full tracks to sink your teeth into, ‘The Death Delta Sirens’ is metal that ticks two important boxes for me: unique atmosphere, and engaging structures informed by well crafted riffs. Its short runtime leaves me wanting more, but this is always a plus in my book.
Pay attention kids, this is the kind of extreme metal your boy Euronymous would have enjoyed back in the day. Lancaster’s Insurgency have been around for a few years now, but their second EP ‘Militant Death Cult’ is a well of treats for fans of pre 1990 extreme metal. It’s dark, primitive, aggressive thrash in the style of early Sodom, Hellhammer, Sarcofago, and Pentegram (Chile). This is atonal, percussive extreme metal that has more in common with Discharge than it does Megadeth or Testament. Staccatod power chord riffs define the rhythm and structure of each track, with drums simply pounding along in the background adding an intense and disconcerting energy to the music.
Even the production sounds old school. It’s lo-fi certainly, but the level of reverb used douses it in that panicked darkness unique to metal of the 1980s. The vocals are reminiscent of Brian Llapitan on NME’s ‘Unholy Death’ LP (1986). A punky mid-range rasp that is again covered in reverb, making the majority of lyrics nearly inaudible.
The music is made up of a series of shifting intensities as riffs are repeated up or down an octave. Occasionally the bass will break away into a solo of sorts, or the guitar will take a brief recess from the relentless rhythmic drive. For that reason Insurgency can pretty much get away with sticking to the same or similar pace throughout this EP, only occasionally slowing down to more conventional rock tempos. All these very simple techniques are given new significance in their context by the intense and united battering that preceded it.
In this respect it helps to look at this as minimal ambient music as oppose to anything related to rock (hear me out). The whole point is to beat the listener into submission with the appearance of monotony through repetition, which means any slight change in pitch, tempo, or intensity seems more significant owing to its rarity. For that reason the structure becomes an intriguing puzzle, and any new revelation revealed by the music a pleasant surprise. Aside from such lofty analyses of the sonic architecture however, ‘Militant Death Cult’ is the fuckest uppest.