Fans of Eyes of Blue Light, the sophomore masterpiece from Denver, Colorado’s Necropanther, take heed: The Doomed City is not the record you are expecting. My review of Eyes of Blue Light was one anchored on Skeletonwitch comparisons from its opening sentence, and while the thesis of that piece ultimately focused on how the album stood in a class all its own, boy, it still sounded a helluva lot like Skeletonwitch. Yet in my countless listens of The Doomed City, that anticipated comparison point never once sprang to mind. All four members of Necropanther still contribute equally to the songwriting process, but with this third record, the members have fully unchained themselves to act on any and all influences and ideas. The resulting product still feels distinctly Necropanther. Unlike the concentrated shot of joyous, derivative adrenaline that defined Eyes of Blue Light, however, The Doomed City feels infinitely more patient, and considerably more ambitious.
The Doomed City retains the unmistakable melodic personality that initially hooked me on Necropanther, but it’s not so quick to rely on outright speed. Certain tracks, namely “Renew” and “Hell,” recall the venomous, thrashing speed of the band’s prior works, but the bulk of the record is defined by relatively experimental compositions. It’s a testament to the band’s flexibility as songwriters that the record’s strongest moments are those which branch furthest from Necropanther‘s established sound. The infectious battle riff anchoring “Arcade,” for instance, is a better Amon Amarth riff than anything that band has written post-Surtur Rising. The title track, meanwhile, is an incalculably heavy, doom-paced piece of steamrolling blackened death. Much of The Doomed City is appropriately doom metal minded, with the most obvious example being the bittersweet dirge of penultimate cut “Deep Sleep.” The Doomed City‘s diversity is so rich as to make it one of the most engaging and replayable records I’ve heard in ages, and offers the most lucid portrayal of Necropanther‘s artistic identity to date in the bargain.
There are many areas where The Doomed City could be called superior to Eyes of Blue Light, but its songwriting represents the most notable improvement. The compositional twists on this thing are fucking wild, with the closing of any given track often being unrecognizable, despite always travelling logical paths to get there. Think you’re getting a trad metal banger upon hearing the Iron Maiden gallops in “Parricide-Genocide?” Wait a few bars longer and you’ll be facing a wall of blastbeats and pitch-black death metal riffs. Enjoying the technical power metal licks in “Argos?” Hang tight as it diverges into driving Khemmis riffs, before returning to the aforementioned licks at twice the speed with melodeath urgency. These tangents universally lead to gripping conclusions; in fact, certain track endings from Eyes of Blue Light feel unnecessarily tangential by comparison.
While not the instrumental leap forward that Eyes of Blue Light was coming off of the self-titled debut, The Doomed City is nonetheless Necropanther’s best showcase for its members’ skill set. The guitar solos see the most technical polishing on this outing, retaining the improvisational spirit from the previous record whilst better integrating them into each track’s melodic identity. The tempered pace which defines much of The Doomed City also allows Haakon Sjogren versatility to really shine from behind the kit. This is especially true for tracks like “The Doomed City,” where he takes the slower tempo and uses the resulting negative space to make the proceedings lush with colorful cymbal work. The perfectly balanced mix allows his performances to properly pop for the first time as well, but more importantly, it allows Marcus Corich’s excellent bass work the floor-shaking presence it deserves. The snare tone could stand to feel a little less flat, but otherwise, The Doomed City stands out as one of the heaviest sounding records I’ve heard all year.
I know in my heart that The Doomed City is Necropanther’s best record. It has the best pacing, riffs, production, and songwriting of any album they’ve put to tape. And yet my stupid fucking reptile brain, the one that still can’t shake off the excellent power metal melodies of “Hunter Seeker” and “Weirding Way,” refuses to acknowledge it as my favorite record in their catalog. As much as I miss the melodic excess from Eyes of Blue Light, however, I know that the vast majority of those reading this will hold The Doomed City as the band’s new high water mark. It absolutely deserves it, and if there’s any justice in the metal community, this will be the album that firmly places Necropanther on the map as one of this decade’s best metal acts, of any genre. Hail Necropanther, now and forever.