It’s been nearly five years since the last Necrophobic album. However, the Swedish melodic black/death mavens’ lengthy absence came about because of just reasons. Between now and their prior disc, Womb of Lilithu, they have not only jumped ship from Season of Mist to Century Media Records, but they’ve also reinstated lead singer Anders Strokirk (replacing long-time favourite Tobias Sidegård) and returning guitarists Sebastian Ramstedt and Johan Bergebäck.
So, basically, the Necrophobic that fans find themselves dealing with in 2018 is only 40% of the same band that they had last heard from in 2013. But do not despair, as the quintet’s brand new full-length opus, Mark of the Necrogram, is one of this young year’s most resonating and fantastic metal releases. Upon completion of the first listen to this 49-minute cascade of blackened madness, one word comes to mind, and that word is “RIFFS!”
From head to toe, Mark of the Necrogram is densely packed with only the purest and most sublime of fiery guitar-work. Ramstedt and Bergebäck easily re-establish themselves as a shredding dream team as they make their grand return, magnificently blending the techy and beautifully harmonic leads that dominate melodic death metal with quick chords and repeating, manic squeals à la Mayhem and Burzum. Their solos are similarly powerful, perpetuating nothing but pure energy as fingers effortlessly dance over fully explored fretboards. Even after many listens to this intense powerhouse of a record, guitar-driven moments like the opening of “Sacrosanct”, “Tsar Bomba”’s massive chorus and the melody-laden solo on “Requiem for a Dying Sun” have the sheer prowess to send shivers up the spine.
Once the brilliance of Mark of the Necrogram’s gorgeous guitars begins to subside, it doesn’t take long to realise that the album’s rhythm section is equally phenomenal. The sheer pace of bassist Alex Friberg and drummer Joakim Sterner (the only two members who continue on from the prior record) is astounding, blast-beats permeating every speedy movement the album can muster. And spoiler alert: there are a lot of speedy movements. However, even in more middling tracks like “Requiem for a Dying Sun”, the duo maintain a pace perfect for long bouts of hard head-banging. It would be extraordinarily difficult for both death and black metal die-hards to anything dissatisfying about not only Mark of the Necrogram’s addictive guitars, but equally its expert bass- and drum-work.
Finally, the vocals of Strokirk also strike a perfect balance, guttural and thrashing enough to appease any extreme metal elitist, but also hard-hitting enough to carry surprisingly infectious and melodic choruses like those on “Crown of Horns”, “Tsar Bomba” and “Lamashtu”. Through Strokirk, Mark of the Necrogram’s melo-death heritage becomes indisputable, but his rampant roars also find themselves regular rumbling above percussion and bass that are pure, undeniable black metal.
Overall, Mark of the Necrogram is easily Necrophobic’s greatest achievement of their entire, 25-year career, its only slight rival coming in the form of the iconic debut The Nocturnal Silence. For fans of any form of heavy metal music, be it bombastic and clean or gritty and dissonant, there are many aspects to enjoy here, and all of them gel together far, far better than they should on paper. Thus, in 2018, not only have these glorious Scandinavians delivered their quintessential album but also, hopefully, affirmed their quintessential line-up.