My middle school biology teacher once said, “Once you stop growing, you literally start dying.” His morbid sentiment was, of course, referring to one’s physical body, but in retrospect, I’ve adopted a more philosophical interpretation of that statement. In order to beat spiritual death, you need to continue growing, and that means continually pushing yourself. At first glance, this seems exactly the ethos Sathanas live by. This Pennsylvania trio has been consistently releasing albums since their 1988 formation, completely undaunted by the fact that not even your favorite metal blog has heard of them. It’s thus fitting they’ve signed to Transcending Obscurity for tenth full-length Necrohymns, because transcending the motherfucking obscurity is exactly what this ragged extreme metal troupe are trying to do here. “It’s time Sathanas get their due,” says the promo blurb, “even if it’s twenty years too late.”
Fortunately, that promo blurb also tells an unfamiliar listener like me exactly what to expect. Even ignoring genre tags, phrases like “old school,” “genuine,” and “without gimmicks or trends” make it obvious these guys worship at the altar of Venom and Hellhammer. Necrohymns sounds like what would have happened if Venom actually had enough money for a polished production job in their formative years, and the fail-safe verse-chorus songwriting only furthers this comparison. Likewise, the crunchy guitars and a hint of death metal heft also call to mind acts like Gravehill and Desaster, though Sathanas’ formula is less adventurous. Their guitar riffs are simple, rhythms are almost universally mid-tempo, and refrains often consist solely of prominent screams of the track title.
It’s certainly a familiar sound, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Opener “At the Left Hand of Satan” is a blackened thrash anthem that reeks with the stench of the old school, sounding like a more evolved Hellhammer. Add in some malicious clean picking and a wailing solo, and you have a song that’s perfectly suited for headbanging and swigging beer at your local dive bar. Second track “Of Wrath and Hellfire” fares even better with its stomping tempo and especially crunchy riffs, while late highlight “Raise the Flag of Hell” cruises on a bobbing thrash riff before throwing in a shuffled set of chords that sound like someone juggling a chainsaw. Through it all, vocalist Paul Tuckers belts out a gargled, demonic rasp that’s a perfect fit for lyrics whose fixation on Satan is borderline obsessive.
Sadly, aside from these tracks, Necrohymns offers little of note. Songs like “Throne of Satan” and “Sacramentum” are dull, and in all the album’s unwavering tempo ultimately makes its 32-minute runtime feel like more of a slog than it should. One can only hear so many bristling mid-paced thrash riffs before they lose their impact and become tedious. More overall variety in the riffing style would have done wonders. Likewise, the mastering is a little too loud, to the point that listening to the album becomes bothersome after a few tracks. Fortunately, the mix itself is crisp and lively, with clear cymbals, assertive guitars, and distinct bass drums that add some driving power to these tracks.
In all, Necrohymns is far from a bad album, but it certainly isn’t a great one. Fans of punky blackened thrash like Insulters are sure to enjoy at least a few cuts. If I heard any one of these tracks on their own, this record probably would have been a drunken Bandcamp purchase at some point. Unfortunately, while the simple formula works for some songs, too many others shuffle by without notable ideas, and the sheer loudness doesn’t help either. While I originally took Sathanas’ dogged consistency as a sign they were constantly pushing themselves, with Necrohymns it seems it’s the exact opposite: the band has found a tempo, riffing style, and songwriting template that works for them, and they refuse to grow beyond it. While the result is a decent enough spin, it’s nothing particularly notable, and probably not something that’ll earn them widespread recognition anytime soon.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Transcending Obscurity Records | Bandcamp
Websites: sathanas.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/sathanasofficial
Releases Worldwide: July 10th, 2018