As should be obvious to anyone who’s had the pleasure, displeasure, or neutral experience of reading anythings I’ve written on this site, I’m a fan of old things. Be it books, music, or even my lovely significant other (she happens to be a few months my elder), the old just strikes a chord with me. In death metal, this may be due to the fact that the first time I was hit with the visceral and exhilarating sounds of the genre it came from the fantastic compilation known as Death…is Just the Beginning: Volume II, which I mistook in youthful ignorance for a Death record when I spied it at the used CD shop. “Daddy Cruel,” still Pungent Stench’s finest moment, assaulted my ears from my Koss portable radio and left a lasting impression, but a few tracks later I got my first taste of Sinister via “Putrefying Remains,” and it was quite the treat as well.
As this isn’t my memoirs, nor a review of a decades-old Nuclear Blast and Relapse sampler, let’s get to what’s written on the top of this page, and what you came here for: Neocaesar’s 11:11. And what a guy with a dreadful Slayer pun as a pen name who talks about Plato too much has to say about it. Neocaesar is comprised of old Sinister members and is clearly aiming at that classic death metal feel. 11:11 is made up of tracks that seem to reject modernity in the genre almost wholesale, giving us nothing too technical or experimental. Sinister is an all-too-obvious reference point, but there’re some Severe Torture and Deicide in the mix as well. This sounds, to my ears anyway, not like old-school worship but of a drive to make the music that comes naturally to these fellows. This is an important distinction that separates those pale imitations of old from the new stuff that’s actually worthwhile.
If you’ve been to an upscale restaurant with dishes you can’t pronounce, which are impressive but don’t satisfy that more primal hunger and find yourself wanting some simple red meat, 11:11 is that nearly bleeding steak made on a barbecue powered by nothing but beer and propane. “Angelic Carnage” revolves around a surefire crowd-pleaser of a chugging riff, being at once groovy and devastating in a way few bands truly manage to. Mike van Mastrigt, who sang on “Putrefying Remains,” stays in the pocket with his phrasing and makes the mid-paced bit outright devastating. The false ending is brilliant, with van Mastrigt bursting forth from the silence with a bellow of the song’s title. “Victims of Deception” is straight out of the 90’s, with a series of high-quality riffs sequenced in a way less planned than expressed. It’s heavy as all get-out, and its bridge is an exercise in neck-snapping proficiency.
Like putting on a pair of old shoes again, Neocaesar is comfortable and just seems right. Their only flaw is that they don’t reach the heights of an old-school classic, as they haven’t produced a legendary riff, song, or idea throughout 11:11. Nonetheless, this does not detract from their achievement of giving old-school death metal a shot in the arm with a bunch of quality songs that recall not just the sound but the essence of old-school death metal. This isn’t a great record because it doesn’t have to be, and I would argue that it doesn’t intend to be. It’s not blazing a trail but storming confidently down it, not blowing the competition out of the water but battering them against the ropes with relative ease. Neocaesar are being a death metal band, playing with experience and gusto, creating reliable standby songs that are too good to fail. At the same time, they’ve avoided greatness by seemingly lacking the inspiration to strive for it; they’ve inhabited a form and done it well within it, standing alongside high-quality old records instead of trying to defeat them.
I’m thoroughly impressed with what Neocaesar have done here. The closest parallel I can draw is to Gorelust’s comeback record, which avoided greatness in a similar way but was nonetheless a record I came back to time and again and thoroughly enjoyed. 11:11 is close to necessary listening, as you’d be a fool to avoid this if you’re a fan of old-school death metal. The production is wonderful, with the drums sounding charmingly clicky and guitars thick but not digitally processed. It’s the old school cleaned up a bit, and it works with the general ethos of the band. Neocaesar does death metal justice.