If you’re a death metal fan and haven’t at least heard the name Necrophagia, you either aren’t much of a fan or you’re deaf, in which case you have a really good excuse and aren’t listening to death metal anyway. Or nu-metal. Or polka. The band has been around since 1983, released a few demos and their seminal debut, Season of the Dead, in 1987. At the time, a defining record that helped launch the entire death metal genre.I picked up Season of the Dead when I was 12 and played that cassette until and after it started making a high pitched squealing sound. I have owned and listened to that album on every format and, now in the digital age, Season is still one of the most listened to recordings in my library with iPod plays in the thousands.
Of the Necrophagia albums I’ve heard since reviewing their comeback release, Holocausto De La Morte, in 1998, WhiteWorm Cathedral is by far the most straightforward. In these times of hyper-technical death metal bands trying to outdo one another, it’s refreshing to hear something so simple. The plot of the movie may have some holes, but you’re not watching Love Me Deadly or The Beyond to see Academy-Award winning performances. You’re there for some chills, blood and guts by the bucket full.
The musicians provide the script, Killjoy directs, and keyboardist Mirai Kawashima (SIGH) plays the role of the special effects/makeup artist, keeping the album from being too primitive, dropping in over some parts and sitting out others, always enhancing and never overbearing. Just cheesy enough to plant the forked tongue firmly in rotted cheek, occasionally providing some downright chilling moments like around 1:50 into “Silentium vel Mortis.” Without Kawashima on board, WhiteWorm Cathedral may have gone too far into Wizard of Gore territory where it’s just about the shock and never actual fear.
At 53 minutes, WhiteWorm Cathedral is a bit long. There is a reason most of the movies that inspired it clock in at 90 minutes or less. Some of the songs stick to the ribs, some stick a knife between the ribs, some just slide down the autopsy table drain. “Reborn Through Black Mass” begins the album in fine fashion with a catchy chorus and menacing, dark riffs, accelerating out of a chug only during the solo. “Fear the Priest” is another standout, taking a full minute with an intro from The Exorcist to establish a creepy-as-fuck mood before launching into a lumbering groove over which Killjoy unleashes a blood-curdling scream that cleverly mimics Regan’s possessed yowl in the intro clip. Appropriately, it’s the song directly based on one of the scariest films of all time that gets furthest away from the camp and closest to genuinely frightening music.
“March of the Deathcorp(s)e” is another killer, based on Shock Waves, a 1977 Nazisploitation zombie film. With a marching main riff and perhaps the most straightforward arrangements on the album, this song works so well because of the simple formula. The gang vocals and downright catchy parts remind me of the stuff on Denial Fiend‘s overlooked but overly-awesome 2007 album They Rise. The production is beefy and dirty. Down tuned guitars and the thick crunch of the bass combine to create a muddy wall of sound that, like the granularity of the film in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, works to help create a suffocating atmosphere rather than taking away from the music.
WhiteWorm Cathedral never crosses over into crippling fear of a psychological horror film like The Shining, rather going for the gullet ala Fulci and the priest puking up his guts in City of the Living Dead/Gates of Hell. Knowing Killjoy’s affinity for classic horror and judging by the abundance of samples from such films throughout the album, I’d bet my spleen that’s exactly what they were going for. Unfortunately in this day and age when the limits of horror in music, film, TV, print and every day life have not just been pushed to the limits, but crammed so far down the throat that they come out the ass, WhiteWorm Cathedral doesn’t have the same impact Season of the Dead did in 1987. That doesn’t keep it from being a fun trip down memory lane and a gory romp like the recent grind house films Machete and Hobo With A Shotgun. Campy rather than genuinely scary and, for the most part, more fun than frightening.