No matter the genre, it’s always the same story: the vocals are good, the drums are good, but there’s only one thing we’re really listening for. “The riffs! The riffs!” we squeal, like starving kittens begging for milk, scrambling over each other for a chance to suckle from the Iommi teat. I admit that I, too, often find myself craving the Almighty Riff, desperately scouring the blogosphere in search of the satisfying crunch of a particularly well-crafted set of power chords. But there’s the occasional black day when I want something more. Something abusive. Bludgeoning. Something that will yank me into a dark room and beat me up, Hellraiser-style,1 until all I want is a Shamrock Shake and some Blood Command to ease me back into reality. When sadomasochism is the name of the game, Revenge and other ‘war metal’ acts fit the bill quite nicely. But what happens when you get both the clobbering abuse and the riffs? That, my friends, is when you get Necroblood.
Memorable songs. Decipherable riffs. Actual melodies. On their Collapse of the Human Race debut, this French quartet deliver everything I always wanted from a war metal album and then some. Make no mistake, the primal brutality is still here: one need only listen to the churning shitstorm that comprises the verses of “Through Limitless Abysses” or the juggling Revenge-esque beats of follow-up “Evil Against Evil” to see that. But “Abysses” soon gives way to a devilishly catchy stomp and surprisingly melodic leads, and “Evil” quickly works in some wickedly addictive tremolos that remain wholly discernible despite being downtuned to what sounds like drop Z. Likewise, late highlight “Sadistik Hunt” follows its bass guitar lead-in with a glorious bobbing rhythm, while mid-album instrumental “Essential Collapse” offers a welcome reprieve in the form of echoing snare hits and bleakly majestic chords.
But what really makes Collapse a win is its songcraft. Be it the sliding notes of tracks like aforementioned “Abysses” or the way the drums lock into snappy beats and doomy dirges at just the right moments, Necroblood know exactly how to make their music feel downright monolithic, putting them head and shoulders above the Sacrocurses and Morbosidads of the world. Similarly, the production sounds impossibly dense and crushing, particularly the thick and dominating guitars. Yet room is left for the vast scorched-earth atmosphere, and listening fatigue is never an issue. Befitting the production are the vocals. Guitarist “Exekvtion” and bassist “TerrorReign” trade off dry subterranean roars and phlegmy rasps, the former sounding deep enough to induce earthquakes and the latter sounding delightfully blasphemous and repulsive. For anyone who’s ever listened to Conqueror and wondered “Where’s the beef?,” Collapse gives you all the juicy steak you could ask for.
Unfortunately, second-half kickoff “Baptised by Devil’s Cum” feels a little rote, and the droning chords of seven-minute closer “The Omen” feel a bit anticlimactic after the record’s previous heights. In fact, despite how wonderfully riffy tracks like late-album highlight “Operation Gomorrah” are, a few more creative progressions wouldn’t have hurt overall. Fortunately, the sickly melodic and squawky solos are terrific, occasionally recalling early Slayer with their twisted notes. And at ten tracks and 45 minutes, Collapse certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Most importantly, however, Necroblood sound inspired. While I love some Bestial Warlust and Diocletian now and then, it’s incredibly refreshing to hear a bestial blackened-death band for whom pounding aggression is not the be-all end-all. This record doesn’t wallow in relentless blastbeats and nigh-inaudible riffs: the guitar-work can actually be followed, and the songs actually become memorable as they go from pummeling blasting to triumphant mid-tempos to lumbering dirges and back again. Hell, even the trumpets and Black Mass sermon of the intro track sound more inspired that 95% of bands who attempt the same thing. At the end of the day, it comes down to this: are you looking for some aural BDSM that doesn’t leave the riffs and memorability at the door? Then Collapse of the Human Race is an album I can’t recommend enough.