Divorce is a hell of a thing that can drive one to desperate actions. Disparagement, violence, death. Sometimes even more harrowing depths. I found myself at the dump in a borrowed pickup truck launching photo albums and torching paperwork. Somewhere in that blur I tossed my cassette collection of over 4,000. It hurt even more than the infidelity and attempted financial fist fucking. I was sane enough to save a few dozen irreplaceable gems. On my desk as I claw at this review with a case of writer’s block so bad it’s like I chewed and swallowed an entire roll of Bubble Tape, is a copy of Necrophobic‘s 1991 Unholy Prophecies demo. A benchmark in Satanic death metal that I am hoping will be the Metalmucil for my literary constipation.
In 1993, progenitors of the Swedish sound, Entombed, excreted the death and roll diarrhea of Wolverine Blues into the world. That same year Necrophobic released The Nocturnal Silence which shoved the commercial pressure that came with Earache’s Columbia distribution deal up Christ’s ass where it belongs. Dark and delightfully devilish, The Nocturnal Silence found Necrophobic ditching the Sunlight buzzsaw sound for a sharper one of their own over nine songs of impeccable death metal. In the wake of the tsunami of black metal in the early nineties, Necrophobic took a blacker path on their sophomore 1997 release, Darkside. I am no purist, but the forging of death and black metal never whet my whistle as the individual genres did, so my interest waned. The return of Anders Strokirk to the mic for the first time since the debut piqued my curiosity with hopes that Mark of the Necrogram would find Necrophobic re-embracing their necro roots.
While the pentagramic pendulum swings more towards the death metal side, the formula has not changed. What saves these songs from getting lost in the depths of the blackened death metal ocean is the songs themselves. Seldom have the beautiful and blasphemous walked so harmoniously hand in hand. It’s this dichotomy that makes Mark such a compelling listen. The title track firmly establishes that Necrophobic, 28 years into the game, can pull a George Foreman on their younger contemporaries and knock their asses clean out, and their style could serve as a blue (black) print of how to perfectly meld brutality and gorgeous melodic riffing. A guitar interlude leads “Odium Caecum” then Strokirk’s blood curdling scream rides an avalanche of suffocating guitars with a Maiden-ish melody layered on top. Finesse then goes out the window as el ultimo hombre Joakim Sterner plows in with a wild fill, and the lofty proceedings crash into a barbaric thrashing for the verses. Sterner knows when to play with restraint and when to full-on rage. The chorus is one of the catchiest I’ve heard in years and had me singing, “I will hate you to the end of days. You, your followers, and your disgusting ways!” while prancing about the kitchen making matzoh ball soup.
The hooks here are cruelly sharp. “Tsar Bomba” is a melodic death metal ditty with parts that, like walking in on your parents fucking, you may never get out of your head, but unlike seeing your dad go balls deep in your mother you won’t want to1. So strong is the material, some tracks that might stand out on a less masterful album pale next to the foul gems herein. For example, “Pesta,” re-recorded from 2017’s seven-inch is sandwiched between the sharp edge of “Sacrosanct” and the asphyxiating dirge “Requiem for a Dying Sun.” While it might have earned Miss Shields A++++++ marks elsewhere, it slides on by as one of the less remarkable songs.
The individual performances are exemplary throughout. Guitarists Sebastian Ramstedt and Johan Bergebäck interweave like the most fabulous of North Korean Satanic Olympic figure skaters and the solo work is gorgeous yet menacing. Bassist Alex Friberg’s playing is of particular note. Fluent, clean, and audible throughout with tasteful runs rather than just following the riff. The melodic line at the 2:51 mark of the aforementioned “Tsar Bomba” is a prime example. Strokirk’s returning roar seethes with vitriol, always intelligible and emotive even at its most unhinged.
While the edge of many veteran bands can be dulled by time, Necrophobic have kept theirs razor sharp. Mark of the Necrogram is an album that any listener with an affinity for heavy music and a soft spot for my ex wife (Satan) will appreciate. Missteps are few and far between despite the path being dark to the point of absolute. An early contender for Album o’ the Year in my book, and that book is entitled, Al Kikuras: The Life of a Bitter Old Low-Ball-Hanging Crusty Metalhead, now available in large easy-to-read print.