Woof. This one’s rather late, eh? It’s been an exceedingly busy last month or so for your ol’ pal Eldritch, which is a shame, because I’ve been dying to put my thoughts on Nekrogoblikon’s latest to print. This band – best described to the uninitiated as an amalgamation of Finnish and American strains of melodic death metal with a side of Finntroll eccentricities – has, for all its goblin gimmickry, transcended its shtick as a damn good metal act, effortlessly tying catchy kinetic rhythms with sticky Euro-folk hooks into a reliably infectious concoction. Of course, the uninitiated wouldn’t know this by listening to Welcome to Bonkers. A departure from the “songwriting first, gimmickry second” template the band had utilized prior, WtB sees the Nekroglobligimmick seeping down from surface level into the very roots of its foundation. The result is an adequate record that still feels like Nekrogoblikon, yet retains only a fraction of the former bite.
Make no mistake: despite its faults, Welcome to Bonkers is a fun record when taken at face value. The compositions have largely pivoted from the modern metal grooves of 2015’s Heavy Meta back to the swift melodeath drives of 2011’s Stench, yet retains the former’s sense of variety while exploring new territory altogether. From the way that “Row” delves into a big, lumbering chorus that smacks of Amon Amarth (after toying with Gorod-esque tech death in its introduction, of course) to the infectious chiptune melody that anchors “Dragons,” Bonkers sees Nekrogoblikon actively tinkering with their sound throughout. Nothing here is particularly revolutionary, but the record’s unpredictable nature makes for an especially swift forty-three minute escapade.
Oh, but if only it didn’t all feel so damned shallow. For all its quirks, Welcome to Bonkers rarely feels like it’s trying to engage beyond shoving its eccentricities in the listener’s face. Nekrogoblikon was always as blisteringly quick and effortlessly catchy as the best melodeath bands, gimmick or no; here, anything that isn’t as unique as a chiptune keyboard melody or a fun banjo line (“Killing Time (and Space)”) feels like weak connecting tissue comprised of generic, predictable rhythm guitar lines. This shortcoming is especially apparent in relatively gimmick-free fare such as “Mold” or “Dressed as Goblins,” which plug along as pale shadows of Nekrogoblikon’s former vigor. It should be noted that both of these tracks (as well as “Darkness”) feature the songs’ titles shouted repeatedly in obnoxious fashion, assumedly to facilitate nothing more than crowd participation, smart songwriting be damned.
As vexing as Welcome to Bonkers is as a complete package, there are highlights to be found for sure. The aforementioned “Dragons” is endearingly wonky, especially with the prevalent, bouncy Finntroll rhythms propelling its verses, and “The Skin Thief”’s breakneck pace shows that Nekrogoblikon can still write a ripper of a melodeath tune when they really set their mind to it. Unexpectedly stealing the spotlight is “The Magic Spider,” a delightfully weird combination of soft progressive rock, surf rock, and traditional steel pan music that never fails to elicit a chuckle from me with its unexpectedly aggressive calls of “C’mon! Let’s go! Spider!” I feel that Bonkers really needed more tracks like this to succeed; by throwing all of their weight into full-on goofiness, it’s probably the only track on the album where it feels like the band never once deals in half-measures.
Letting a month pass between Bonkers’ release and the completion of this review has allowed me to gauge the reaction of Nekrogoblikon’s fan-base to the record, and surprisingly enough, its reception has been nearly universally positive. The band’s core fans may be appeased by the sacrifice of substance in the name of quirkiness, but to Nekrogoblikon themselves, I will say this: I will support artists that don’t take themselves seriously, but not artists that don’t take their music seriously. I’m hoping that this doesn’t reveal itself to be the case for the band going forward, as Welcome to Bonkers manages to show flashes of brilliance, and I’d add its best songs to a list of Nekrogoblikon’s best cuts in a heartbeat. Yet while no one track is truly “bad,” three notable highlights does not a good record make, and the full product is not especially recommendable.