A lot of metal bands that have been around for thirty plus years sometimes feel like they’re going through the motions, putting out some solid material every so often but failing to captivate listeners from beginning to end in the same way they did in their prime. Clearly Sweden’s Necrophobic never got this memo, as the band’s melodic take on black and death metal has only seemed to refocus its potency in recent years. 2018’s Mark of the Necrogram brought some significant shifts with it, as The Nocturnal Silence era vocalist Anders Strokirk rejoined alongside two of their guitarists who had left prior to Womb of Lilithu. With this renewed lineup came the same type of focus and scorching intensity Necrophobic displayed on their best efforts, and this has continued on this year’s Dawn of the Damned. The songwriting showcases all the elements that have made the group stand out among their peers while branching out in ways that make logical sense and give the material a bit more variety.
The return of both Sebastian Ramstedt and Johan Bergebäck to Necrophobic in 2016 has gone a long in helping them recapture the intensity of their earlier days. What’s always drawn me to this band is how they seamlessly move between melodic black metal and death metal with their tonality and songwriting approach, and right from the start of Dawn of the Damned the instrumentals showcase this blend perfectly. After “Aphelion” kicks things off with appropriately dark and epic sounding guitar work, “Darkness Be My Guide” comes storming out of the gates with a whirlwind of blast beats and soaring leads. Songs like this are classic Necrophobic, offering blistering and bottom-heavy tonality that have the fire of black metal and weight of death metal while layering melodies over top of this base that immediately get stuck in your head. Where other groups would take this formula and then spin it into ten or eleven songs that all sound far too similar, these guys are able to switch things up a bit more often by varying their tempos and working in hints of thrash and other influences that make particular passages stick out over repeat listens. Dawn of the Damned remains consistent throughout, and even when the band stretches things out to the seven-minute mark they manage to keep things interesting. Standouts for me include the haunting, otherworldly melodies of “Mirror Black”, the multi-faceted attack of “The Infernal Depths of Eternity” that leads into what sounds like a battle march, and the surprise dip into straight up thrash on closer “Devil’s Spawn Attack”. There’s a lot of quality riffs to grab listeners’ attention, and I suspect many won’t get bored with this material any time soon.
Anders Strokirk has only seemed to gain more intensity and power since stepping back behind the mic for Necrophobic after a close to two-decade gap, and his performance throughout Dawn of the Damned continues to demonstrate that. With a raspier scream that stands tall above the already immense recording, Strokirk has this larger than life presence that helps to put many of these songs over the top and allows them to have real impact. The approach is definitely familiar, particularly if you’ve spent time listening to any other Swedish black metal over the years, but it’s hard to match the energy level on display here and that goes a long way. In a surprise move, Necrophobic brought in Destruction vocalist Schmier for “Devil’s Spawn Attack” where he lets loose with his ear-piercing shrieks and screams that complement Strokirk’s pitch. It’s a great way to finish the album, as this surprise blast of all-out intensity keeps things at a high rather than letting things fizzle out.
This renewed lineup of Necrophobic has continued to stand tall and deliver standout material that perfectly captures their blend of black metal and death metal. While the sound is still familiar, the writing covers a lot of ground and provides plenty of variety to keep listeners happy whether they’re taking it in as a whole or focusing on particular songs. It’s clear the band has focused in on writing melodies that get under your skin as well as leads that have the same fire and grit as they did decades ago and this might just be one of their best efforts yet, comparable to the likes of Death To All. Dawn of the Damned is available from Century Media Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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