I like the beats and I like the yelling: Necromantical Invocation, Remote, Evocator

Necromantical Invocation: Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie
Out 24th July on Helter Skelter Productions

This debut demo/mini album originally released back in February 2021 sees a CD and vinyl release on Helter Skelter this week. Necromantical Invocation is the brainchild of one Echetleos, who is something of a polymath in the Greek scene at present, with Caedes Cruenta and Walpurgia being amongst his many projects. But here we have a solo offering, which I take to be an indication of this being a purer – and certainly more bespoke – artistic vision from this mind, unsullied by the compromises inherent to team efforts.

And indeed – despite the bulky metal track ‘Necromantical Ritual’ to draw us in, which behaves like Necromantia on a particularly grindcorey day – this is primarily an experimental ambient/dungeon synth work of sorts. But of the metal track we still have many talking points. The rich and warm guitar tone bares comparison to Mortuary Drape or early Beherit, typifying the bass heavy filth of early black metal.

But as the demo progresses we are greeted with the fifteen minute long title track, which could again be compared to the experimental wonderings of Necromantia. This is essentially a fifteen minute long bass suite, replete with everything from windchimes to whispered incantations to some saxophone (homage to Necromantia?) and a minimal keyboard backing providing additional scenery. The demo then closes with the much shorter track ‘Αι Σκιαί Του Άδου’, which is essentially a Hellenic answer to dungeon synth. The charm of cheap keyboard tones that would be hard to take seriously in other settings finds new significance in the uncanny melodic minimalism of this proudly archaic setting.  

Given the contrast to the dirty occult metal of the preceding track it makes for an interesting left turn that – whilst stylistically jarring – is not entirely unwelcome. Necromantical Invocation revel in what I’d like to call “weird metal”. This should be distinguished from the usual avant-garde or explicitly experimental fodder because the music on here – whether metal or not – embodies a distinctively traditional tone and aesthetic.

The eerie keyboard opener gives way to a filthy bludgeon of old school black metal. Warm, rich, primitive, and unapologetically flamboyant. Guitar solos, whilst not the most complex thing in the world, reference neoclassical and gothic stylings reaffirming the unabashed theatrics of this style. Vocals stick to the mid-range in their ghoulish revelry, echoey and monstrous.

In short, this is a highly traditional reaffirmation of very old school metal values. But Necromantical Invocation seek to evolve this framework not by tearing its conventions to pieces – as so many  self-proclaimed experimental acts are wont to do – but by revelling in them. The experimental and quirky traits within occultist metal have always been present, despite the celebrated primitivism and alleged restrictions of this style. From the early avant-garde leanings of Celtic Frost to the outlandish antics of Venom, all Necromantical Invocations do is tap into these qualities and expand considerably on their potential.

This means that – despite the contrast of the primitive occult metal of ‘Necromantical Ritual’ and the extended experimentation of the title track – this work comes across a unified vision. There is no segregation between the quirky moments and the crowd-pleasing riffs. And for that reason none of this demo’s eccentricities come across as contrived or bolted on for the sake of it. This is a work of very traditional metal that simply elevates a pre-existing aesthetic and brings it to the fore. In doing so Echetleos is able to tap into dormant potentials for this genre, to push the sense of the “weird” and the uncanny of primitive extreme metal even further.

Remote: Дым
Out 2nd July on Addicted Label

What do you get when you cross a stoner doom guitar tone with classic melodic doom riffs that bookmark sluggish hardcore punk outbreaks, accompanied by black metal style vocals? Well, you get another bloody sludge album. But the latest offering from Russia’s Remote in the form of ‘Дым’ (smoke), far from being a typical modern sludge affair of basic as fuck riffs and monotone rhythms, is actually one of those “history of riffs” albums.

Although sticking with a broadly doom framework, each track jumps from style to style and era to era with little concern for the linking infrastructure required to make these tonal shifts work. Before we get too critical thought, it’s important to note the strengths of this album.

Despite the thick, Conanesque guitar tone that greets the ear in mono, with no lead or rhythm sections to open out the mix and split apart the riffs a little, Remote are energetic, moving from one idea to the next without remorse. They are also happy to shift tempos frequently, deploying any number of rhythmic tricks to keep things moving along. Their intent seems to be to create a battering ram of riffs as opposed to the usual droning of chords and slow rhythms favoured by modern stoner doom, usually intended to build a vibe but so often inducing sleep.

The distorted black metal vocals – which sometimes revert to low-end death growls – whilst blocking off a potential melodic avenue, are consistently aggressive, meeting the moment of these heavy, often punky riffs, and serve to further ‘Дым’ as an aggressive battering ram of sound.

The strong definition to the guitar tone maintains a fixed aesthetic throughout the album, but at times it is unclear where Remote stand. Making explicit and multiple tightly packed references to specific riff traditions can work as a compositional tool, but without a clear underlying thread of identity, it can often fall out of focus, leaving nothing but a series of nods to various eras of history. And for the most part Remote avoid this particular pitfall, as in the ten-minute title track for instance. The opener ‘Шлюха’ may be a little unfocused, opening with a nicely crafted melodic doom riff worthy of Pentagram, only to break into a shifting template of lacklustre stoner doom and sludge metal barrage. Whether intentional or not, the temporal whiplash this induces is a little jarring.

But as the album progresses, and competing vibes and melodic or atonal traditions surface and are settled on for longer periods the album’s underlying structure begins to take shape. The feedback drenched interlude of ‘Пепел’ is a nice way to segment the first and second half of the album, dragging out the mid-section and emphasising the re-emergence of bludgeoning energy that is ‘Гореть’, which even sees some black metal riffs make an appearance.

That being said, by the time closer ‘Гравитация’ rolls around we are back to energetic but generic sludge metal riffing which brings nothing to the table. Such moments are frequent throughout the album, but Remote usually get away with it by sandwiching these riffs between quirkier moments. Cutting this album down to thirty-minutes’ worth of material as opposed to the forty-five we get – whilst a fairly generic criticism – would have gone a long way to elevating ‘Дым’ from eyebrow raising to a genuinely fun slab of sludge metal.

Evocator: Chronicles of Pestilence
Out 14th February, self-released

In the wrong hands this brand of overtly depressive death/doom – one where the tempo rarely rises above 100bpm – would be cause for boredom. But on their latest EP ‘Chronicles of Pestilence’, Sweden’s Evocator manage to maintain a consistent aesthetic throughout as well as holding our attention by structuring these tracks with a clear forward momentum, a handful of intriguing tangents, compelling in their musical modesty but in context working to build to clear dramatic finales. Finales which feel earned given the length of each track and the patient layering of ideas and tones that bring us to a semblance of conclusion.

At times the simple doom riffs are enhanced by screeching sirens of dissonant, tremolo picked chords that persistently rise above this most basic of foundations. This provokes comparisons to Svautidaudi if they were stripped of their cyclical industrial drum patterns. Here instead these cavernous, rising guitar leads are placed in the stripped back and sparse landscape of minimal death/doom. We call them guitar “leads”, but they are defined primarily by their textural qualities over anything melodic, operating on the most basic of ascending note patterns. But the rhythm guitars beneath pile on the reverb thick, finding themselves dragged along by their own momentum, granting longevity and depth of meaning to otherwise rudimentary chord patterns.

Drums offer an understated performance, but their contribution to achieving the overall depressive atmosphere should not go unnoticed. Chiefly because when the word depressive gets thrown around it is often too close to “boredom” in the common lexicon. Not so here. A persistent momentum and forward motion is maintained in these three lengthy tracks. This is not by virtue of any complex fills or distractingly regular tempo changes. Evocator do mix up the pacing, but this is built gradually over each piece to the point where the double bass drums and heightened intensity feels earned. Vocals follow a similar philosophy, offering a dual attack of guttural growls and high end screams. But both are able to match the heightened melodrama as each piece reaches its climax.

Each track is centred around a simple, marching doom riff that tonally has more in common with black metal. This aesthetic is enhanced as new riffs are introduced by way of commentary, layering on the minor key harmonies and using the size and inertia of the doomy guitar tone to enhance the drama of the smallest shift in pitch. And if shifts in key or rhythm are in short supply, as in the closing number ‘Boundless Miasma’, Evocator opt to simply cut the drums and distortion out completely in the form of a clean guitar interlude. The tricks are old, the textures and mood a little underdeveloped, but for music that wears its depressive creds on its sleeve it remains ahead of the curve.

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