In my eighteen months writing for this blog I’ve somehow failed to even once express my affinity for Skeletonwitch. They are, without question, one of my very favorite metal bands; their ability to pair unconventionally hooky melodies with equally catchy thrash rhythms, bred with prominent elements of melodic death and black metal, gets my blood flowing in a way that traditional genre affair can never quite match. Describing Skeletonwitch’s sound in this review also serves to summarize the sound of Denver, Colorado’s Necropanther, whose approach is so similar to that of the ‘Witch as to be one riff away from an overnighted cease and desist letter. And yet, the more I listened to their sophomore record Eyes of Blue Light, conscious associations between Necropanther and their primary influence dissipated, because the way that this band embraces and perfects everything they attempt places them in a class all their own. Oh, and they absolutely fucking slay.
They may not quite touch Skeletonwitch in terms of sheer riff creativity, but in almost every other area, Necropanther triumphs. Their willingness to lean their full weight into all of their influences unshackles them from thrash tropes in a way that makes Eyes of Blue Light a perfectly well-rounded experience. Its sound understanding of both thrash and melodeath makes for an aesthetic that’s as much Bay Area as it is Gothenburg, and tangents like the soaring power metal harmonies of “Hunter Seeker” or the disgustingly filthy Disma riffs of “House Atomics” are slipped in so naturally as to feel like integral components of the compositions. Hell, even closing cut “Strange Gods,” an instrumental piece of melodic doom, makes for one of the more compelling outros in recent memory despite sounding little like anything that came before it. At around thirty-five minutes, this record is the embodiment of the “all killer, no filler” philosophy, constantly thrilling and, when it wants to be, emotionally impactful.
This emotional weight is intrinsically connected to the record’s concept. If you haven’t already picked this up from the album and track titles, Eyes of Blue Light retells Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel Dune, taking the essential beats covered in David Lynch’s film adaptation and hyper-condensing them into twelve tracks that touch on the most memorable moments. The music reflects the plot in ways that completely suit the action; from the classic, blistering thrash riff that roils its way out from the doomy introductory power chords to mimic a rising sandworm in “Shai-Hulud,” to the inspirational melodies that accompany the Fremens’ initial training of Weirding modules (“Weirding Way”), Eyes of Blue Light is consistently, convincingly dramatic without ever forgetting its priorities as an exhilarating extreme metal record. Plus, the lyrical emphasis is infectious as hell. I dare you not to try to growl along to the ascending guitar harmonies in “Gom Jabbar:” Heat / Upon Heat / Upon Heat / Upon Heat!
Of course, you would probably tear your vocal cords apart trying to mimic the gurgled roars of frontman/guitarist Paul Anop, who delivers biting and coherent harsh vocals that are essential in conveying Necropanther’s concept. While Paul’s pipes may be the most distinguished aspect of the band’s performances, the rest of the members are no slouches, with guitarists Anop and Joe Johnson in particular impressing with taut, pervasive rhythm and lead harmonies and cleverly stacked riff layers. Meanwhile, drummer Haakon Sjoegren (ex-Havok) incorporates plenty of fills and smart cymbal work to set himself apart part from most thrash metal drummers, and bassist Marcus Corich (also ex-Havok) crafts audible undercurrents of secondary melody, especially evident in “Weirding Way.” The strong bass presence , satisfying guitar crunch, and well-balanced mix are as solid as you’d expect from legendary producer Frederik Nordström, but unfortunately the master is unnecessarily compressed, and the drums fail to make a strong impact.
These minor production quibbles aside, I’d be extremely surprised if I end up covering a more thoroughly enjoyable and kick-ass record this year. Necropanther set out to tackle an extremely ambitious concept with an equally far-reaching toolset within a seemingly restrictive run time, yet accomplishes more than most double albums can hope for because it never wastes a single second of disc space. Eyes of Blue Light’s individual moments may not be revolutionary in and of themselves, but the way these moments are molded together into extremely concise blasts of melodic thrashing metal puts nearly every band attempting a similar amalgamation to shame. Go buy the fuck out of this record, because Necropanther deserves your support.