Despite being dubbed the “Chameleon of Rock” for his ever-changing style, the late David Bowie didn’t agree with this title. “For me a chameleon is something that disguises itself to look as much like its environment as possible,” he once said. “I always thought I did the exact opposite of that.” But fret not, you fanatical herpetophiliacs out there, Canadian blackened-death trio Necronomicon is proof positive that musical chameleons do, in fact, exist.
Formed in Quebec in 1988, I first discovered Necronomicon in 2009 with their music video for “The Time Is Now” from third album The Return of the Witch. To say it was inspired by Behemoth is like saying the last Ketzer album had a slight Tribulation influence. The music and visuals were a dollar-store version of The Apostasy, and I quickly wrote them off without exploring further. Fifth album The Advent of the Human God shows Necro changing their colors to adapt to the modern symphonic environment inhabited by bands like Fleshgod Apocalypse, Septicflesh, and Carach Angren. Is it once again a plastic mockery of better music?
Surprisingly, no. Though the Fleshgod and Dimmu Borgir influence is clear right from the bombastic choirs of instrumental opener “The Descent” and orchestral flourishes that weave between the burly riffs of the follow-up title-track, “Advent,” shows the band deftly side-stepping the pitfalls of mid-period Fleshgod to produce a surprisingly adept take on the style. Whereas Agony was infamous for parading its strings over a squashed generic riff-bed, tracks like early highlight “Unification of the Four Pillars” show Necronomicon soaring through sections of squealing strings and chunky riffs that – while both equally mighty in sound – manage to not just coexist, but augment each other wonderfully. The symphonic element isn’t just a spice for bland music, either: the album’s strongest track, “The Golden Gods,” features no string accompaniment whatsoever, instead riding its pugnacious Evangelion-style riff to a crushing rhythm break and terrific solo, finishing with a cyclical, maniacal melody that would make Nergal grin.
Credit is due to both guitarist Rob “The Witch” Tremblay and drummer “Rick” (yep, just Rick). Tremblay’s death metal experience is apparent, and while his riffs may never be considered ‘iconic,’ moments like the hefty Nile-style opening and escalating Krisiun verse licks of “Crown of Thorns” give these tracks just enough headbang-fuel and distinction to make them surprisingly memorable. There’s fiery blasting aplenty in songs like “I, Bringer of Light,” but Rick also incorporates some combatant, tribal rhythms reminiscent of Vader, as heard on “The Fjord” and aforementioned “Crown.” Furthermore, the songs are written to incorporate their soaring strings at just the right moments, whether filling in when the guitars halt in the title track, or providing an eyebrow-raising piano melody and cinematic fight-to-the-death ending in closer “Alchemy of the Avatar.”
Production wise, the DR varies from Satanica-level squashed for the main tracks to a 7 for the instrumental interludes, but fortunately, the guitars and symphonics remain extraordinarily distinct and well-balanced. The guitar tone is thick and commanding, the snare is snappy, and while the bass drums are a bit clicky, it actually fits the contemporary sound well. But sadly, while Advent is a good record which I enjoy front to back (even the whopping 4 instrumental interludes feel well-placed instead of superfluous), the amount of name-drops in this review betray its greatest flaw: this still feels like a generic blend of everything that’s dominated the scene for the last decade. For musicians who can clearly write decent songs and riffs, it’s frustrating that they allow themselves to wallow in the shadow of bigger bands rather than attempting to blaze any sort of original path. Additionally, Tremblay’s vocals – be it his off-the-shelf growl or occasional Nuclear Blast-approved croak – lack character. And while tempo differences between the songs make them distinct, a lack of rhythmic variation within the songs sometimes makes them a bit of slog, particularly on the title track.
Advent will not revolutionize your opinion of death metal. It will probably not make your year-end list or have you posting Necronomicon music videos on your friend’s Facebook wall (other than to laugh at the googly-eyed expressions of Tremblay in “The Time Is Now”). But for those looking for 40-ish minutes of well-executed symphonic death metal, you could do far worse than what these color-changing reptiles have to offer.