I’m not a fan of gimmick band names. I’m also not a fan of gimmick album names, or gimmick song titles, or gimmick bands in general. It’s just all too gimmicky. Maybe I’m just a cranky old fella (Angry Olde Guy?), but if I want comedy in an album I’ll throw on my old Howie Mandel cassette. So when I see an album called Jewel of the Vile, by a band called Necromancing the Stone, complete with saucy cover art, I groan. But I am nothing if not obedient, so I click the Download button and brace myself for what is likely to come (and hope for a guest appearance by 1985-era Kathleen Turner).
Jewel of the Vile is the first full-length album from these American metallers, following on the heels of 2014’s EP Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. The formula here is plain old heavy metal, with a lot of thrashy overtones and even some sort-of death metal touches. This isn’t the day job for any of the band members: guitarist Justin Wood and singer “Big” John Williams are from Brimstone Coven, second guitarist James Malone plays for Arsis, Jeramie Kling drums for The Absence, and bassist Ryan Williams used to bass it up with The Black Dahlia Murder. So they’ve got some experience, and some heavy experience at that, but despite what might be some intense backgrounds, the music on Jewel of the Vile is surprisingly accessible. In fact, the band makes it loud and clear on the InterGoogle that they are at war with the lord of deathcore/metalcore, one Breakdownicus Gratuitous. Cute.
Things get off to a rousing start with “Crusher,” a blazing fast scorcher with a classic dual-guitar riff and screaming lead break leading into the first verse. “Big” John comes in with his tenor, singing about an evil creature who has come to black out the sun. It’s an impassioned delivery, which unfortunately is the high point on the record for our illustrious singer. Beyond this opening track he displays even less passion than (and somewhat of a resemblance to) Don Dokken of days gone by (“Tooth and Nail” could easily fit on Jewel of the Vile). Solid backing vocals throughout the record along with the occasional deathlike growl spice things up, but not enough to overcome the feeling of dullness emanating through the vocals.
Luckily the band bails him out throughout Jewel of the Vile. Musically there isn’t a weak link to be found. Both guitarists hammer out catchy riffs, at times fast and others thick and chunky, lead breaks range from token classical-themed wankery to squealing Zakk Wylde-inspired shredding and back to 80s harmony leads and guitar tones reminiscent of Judas Priest. The bass growls away, more than happy to try keeping pace with the frenetic drumming throughout. Musically the only real complaint is the record’s length; 55 minutes is a bit long, and while none of the songs are atrocious, a few (“Bleed for the Night,” “Rotted Reunion,” and “Honor Thy Prophet”) could have been culled without weakening the album. On the flip side, “Unfinished Business,” closer “The Battle of Morningstar,” the aforementioned opener “Crusher” are all standout tracks.
The production and mix are punchy and aggressive despite the standard DR 6 rating. Only one issue in this regard, and it’s a tiring one by the time you get to the 55th minute of this too long record: the kick drum is overloud in the mix. It’s not bad if listened on, say, computer speakers, where there’s no bottom end to speak of, but play this on a system that has a pair of balls and your ears will be asking you to visit the library when this is over. When I finished listening to this record my first though was “Wow, that was a lot of kick drum.” One of the best songs on the album, “The Siren’s Call,” illustrates each and every plus and minus described – killer guitar work, mostly stellar production, overdone kick drum, and blasé singing.
Jewel of the Vile is a surprisingly enjoyable slab of metal played by a band that clearly has what it takes on almost all levels. A troubled vocal performance along with a feisty kick drum and a long running time make this a pretty good but not great release.