Necronomicon are death metal underdogs. Formed in 1988, this Canadian trio have been toiling in the underground for decades yet have never achieved widespread popularity. Admittedly, that’s somewhat understandable given their sound hasn’t always been the most innovative. My first encounter with them was “The Time Is Now” from 2010’s Return of the Witch, which (while a decent song) made the band sound like they were trying to copy Behemoth‘s The Apostasy. The group followed Witch with 2013’s Rise of the Elder Ones and 2016’s Advent of the Human God, which showed them breaking away from Nergalcore a bit and introducing symphonic elements in the vein of Septicflesh, Fleshgod Apocalypse, and Septic Apocaflesh.1 While I enjoyed Advent well enough at the time, I’ve never felt inclined to return to it and all but forgot about Necronomicon until Unus landed in my lap. Freshly signed by Season of Mist, will this sixth album finally show the band getting their big break?
I wouldn’t go that far, but that doesn’t mean this is a bad album. Like its immediate predecessors, Unus continues in the symphonic style that calls to mind Dimmu Borgir and Fleshpocalypse Septicgod. Opener “From Ashes into the Flesh” shows this right away, breaking in with bombastic choirs and grandiose orchestration that nearly drowns out the trilling lead guitar which bobs along underneath. It’s a decent song that falls victim to the same things Fleshgod did on Agony, where the symphonic elements overwhelm the guitars and the overall composition just isn’t very interesting.
In listening to “Ashes,” I’m reminded of something an old coworker once expressed to me about woman with tattoos. “If a woman gets a tattoo,” he said, “the best she can do is break even. A tattoo isn’t going to make her more attractive, but it can certainly make her less attractive.” I don’t agree with this principle with regard to tattoos, but I do agree with regard to symphonic elements in metal. They can certainly make a song worse but rarely make a song better, and this is clearly evidenced by how much weaker “Ashes” is compared to the seven proper songs that follow it. These tracks are generally not overbearing when it comes to symphonic elements and the album is all the stronger for it. Take early highlight “Infinituum Continuum,” which rides a cruising main riff that’s sure to get heads bobbing and only incorporates orchestral elements to augment its climax. “Paradise Lost” likewise dials back the orchestration and succeeds purely on blasting rhythms, Behemothian guitars, and a very powerful and reflective riff in its conclusion.
It helps that the band keep things varied. “The Thousand Masks” creeps along on a plucking chug, while “Ascending the Throne of Baator” slows the tempo further with sharp, doomy notes. Sadly, there’s still some things I don’t love. Closer “Vox Draconis” hearkens back to the opener with its overly bombastic choirs, resulting in an album that’s bookended by its weakest material. It doesn’t help that the best song here, “Cursed MMXIX,” is actually a rerecording from the group’s 1992 demo. Its furious tremolos and pure death metal approach work well, but don’t quite mesh with the other material and end up showing just how much better the rest of the album could have been. Fortunately, the production is rich and full, and while it’s fairly loud (particularly the orchestral elements), the sound itself is never a huge issue.
Everyone wants to find their own underdog to nurture and love, and with Necronomicon I thought I’d found mine. I do applaud the band’s ability to come up with catchy and distinct riffs, but ultimately the symphonic elements on Unus feel superfluous and too much of this album is either forgettable or drowned in orchestral bombast. Those who like symphonic death or black metal may enjoy Unus more than I did. At its heart this isn’t a bad album, but I’ll keep waiting for them to release something that truly impresses.