If you were to guess what Nekrokraft and Witchery have in common, what would it be? OK, yeah, they’re both Swedish. What else? Nope, they definitely don’t play the same styles of metal—the latter is more Swede-thrash oriented and the former plays symphonic-black metal, in the vein of Dimmu Borgir. Give up yet? What these two groups have in common is their vocalist. After Legion left Witchery following Witchkrieg, Nekrokraft‘s Angst stepped up to the mic for In His Infernal Majesty’s Service and Witchery‘s brand-new record, I Am Legion. But Angst also contributed to Nekrokraft‘s 2012 EP, Witches Funeral (Reborn in Fire), and their 2016 debut, Will o’ Wisp. But that’s where the comparison’s end. Even Angst’s (or Angus Norder’s) vocal styles are a touch different between the two bands. But, the biggest difference is this: everyone knows Witchery but no one seems to know Nekrokraft. Which is a shame because they’re pretty good.
That said, if you ain’t a fan of symphonic black metal, you may not be a fan of this record. Thankfully, Nekrokraft is far from being a Dimmu Borgir clone. Even Dimmu‘s hatiest of haters oughta dig some of the thrash/death riffs of Servants. Take “Lechery,” for example. This one opens with a mid-paced riff that lends itself well to the symphonic black metal atmospheres. But not any ole black metal atmospheres. These ones are smeared in thrash metal smut. It drips with black ooze but has plenty of headbangable moments—much like Old Man’s Child. But the thrashy shit gets multiplied by two from follow-up track, “Gateway to Damnation.” This song has some kickass, razor-sharp riffs while introducing a new side to the record. That being a subtle melodic one. These two songs are a couple of the stronger ones, even if the latter track ends awkwardly.
“Rotten Husk,” “Eternal, I Am,” and “Dance ov the Nekrolythes” also pack some serious punch. All have thick, blackened riffs, akin to Old Man’s Child, but each uses those riffs in their own special way. “Rotten Husk” uses its bludgeoning riffage to build a mountain before the song’s guitar solo slingshots it to its summit. “Eternal, I Am” ups the OMC vibe with a sick, mid-paced charge, tantalizing keyboard work, and passion-driven black metal rasps. But “Dance ov the Nekrolythes” takes all the styles and approaches of the album and turns them into a tightly-packed, black-metal snowball. And, as it hurdles relentlessly toward your helpless face, you can already feel its Old Man’s Child punch, its Emperor-like sting, and its Dissection-esque iciness. It’s a solid combination of influences that result in one great track.
But, like 2016’s Will o’ Wisp, which I remember passing on reviewing way back when, there’re almost as many Plain Jane’s as there are Saucy Suzy’s on the record. Closer “Plague,” opener “Mouth ov Ahriman,” and “Servants ov the Black” are about as predictable as Muppets‘ overuse ov “yo.” But, ov the three, “Plague,” and it’s Hypocrisy-like drive and death growls, is the best. The opener and title track are standard, symphonic numbers that crash-and-boom. But they don’t do much else. And, right in the middle of the best and less-than-best is “Brimstone and Flames.” It’s full of Dimmu-like symphonics and loads of backing vocals that lend their hand to the melodic atmospheres.
Of the band’s two major releases, Servants goes far and beyond Will o’ Wisp. The band has made leaps and bounds since 2016, but that’s pretty easy to do with how weak Will o’ Wisp is. That said, Servants is ahellova good time. It has some crushing guitar work, relentless drum assaults, and vocals that span the planes of black and death. It won’t make the album of the year, and the verdict is still out on how it compares to Dimmu Borgir‘s newest record, but there’s still much to like here.