Those of you who avidly follow my reviews will have noticed that … oh c’mon, there must be someone beyond Mrs. Carcharodon … really? No one? No one at all?! OK, fine. Fuck all y’all! Mrs. C., this one’s for you! So, sweetie, you’ll have noticed that in my reviews, I tend to steer clear of death metal as a genre. There are two principal reasons for this. First, I don’t really like death metal – the unrelenting nature of the music, coupled with the dying frog vocals, just doesn’t do it for me. Second – and as a function of the first – I don’t know much about it. But, if you stick a ‘blackened’ tag in front of ‘death metal,’ shit, I guess I’ll give it a go. So, French stalwarts Necrowretch, I hope you feel suitably honored by the amateur treatment your fourth full-length, The Ones from Hell, is about to receive.
The follow-up to 2017’s brutal, black-metal driven Satanic Slavery actually sees Necrowretch kick off things in surprisingly gentle fashion, as “Pure Hellfire” opens to with an acoustic guitar strumming delicately over light, pacy percussion. This lasts all of 64 seconds until the first, ponderously heavy chord hits. Another 65 seconds in and The Ones from Hell begins pummeling you in earnest. When it does launch its fury at you (with a “The Great Southern Trendkill”-worthy howl), it does so in black-metal drenched tones. Indeed, the first three tracks definitely play up the ‘blackened’ tag but as Necrowretch move into “Absolute Evil” and the malevolently crawling tones of “Codex Obscuritas,” things take on a definite swagger, with a heavy groove to the riffs. At the same time, long-standing drummer Ilmar throttles back on the blast beats, simplifying what he’s doing in favor of a slower, almost hypnotic vibe.
After the opening third of the album, it’s not until Necrowretch move into the eponymous album closer that they really step up the speed again. Back third tracks “Darkness Supreme” and “Through the Black Abyss” – which, like the opener begins in atmospheric acoustic tones – are, for the most part, grindingly heavy tracks, built on churning, oppressively weighty riffs, that never break into the out and out technicality I associate (probably in my ignorance) with modern death metal. In that sense, there’s a fair bit of Earth Rot‘s Renascentia on show, while the threatening, sepulchral tones of The Ones from Hell remind me of cuts like “Ruins” and “Unas, Slayer of Gods” from Nile’s In Their Darkened Shrines. Unlike Nile, however, Necrowretch founding member Vlad’s harsh vocals make more of a blackened rasp than they do of guttural death metal roars and the tortured shrieks that come in on cuts like “Necrowretch” and “Codex Obscuritas” conjure memories of British sludgers Charger.
To my surprise, there is actually a lot to like about The Ones from Hell. In pacing terms, Necrowretch’s latest has more in common with their 2013 debut, Putrid Death Sorcery, than their last outing. Stylistically, however, the black metal influences seen on Satanic Slavery continue to play a significant part in what Necrowretch do and the atmosphere they craft. While I wonder at times whether the echoey effects on Vlad’s vocals are at times over-used (“Codex Obscuritas”), my main criticism of The Ones from Hell is the production. This sees the drums and vocals frequently too high in the mix, with Vlad and Wence’s guitars sometimes slipping into a sludgy background swamp. Whilst that’s all well and good on a sludge record, for all its weight, sludge this is not and, to gel with the vocals and work on drums, the riffs need to be cleaner. This is not an issue throughout the record though and when everything clicks, like on “Luciferian Sovranty,” the title track and “Darkness Supreme,” it really clicks.
I went into The Ones from Hell mainly due to a nagging sense that I should probably broaden out my review fodder, and with no real expectation of enjoying it. I have been very pleasantly surprised, however, by the black-metal led harshness on show at the start of the record and the pleasingly claustrophobic weight of the second half. At a compact 37 minutes, there’s variety enough to engage, without ever feeling ponderous or long-winded. This, Mrs. C., is likely to now see me spending more time in the blackened death metal camp, as well as with Necrowretch’s back catalog. So sweetie, if you’re looking for a Valentine’s present for me, you could do a lot worse than a vinyl copy of The Ones from Hell.