Death-inspired name with cvlty spelling? Check. Grainy black-and-white promo photo in the woods? Got it covered. Satanic/occult lyrical themes? You’ll find ‘em here in spades. Pseudonyms for all the band members? You betcha. Corpse paint? You know it.
At first glance, Sweden’s Nekrokraft come across as no different than many a black metal band before them, and you’d be forgiven for coming to such a conclusion based on the way the band members present themselves. Yet upon engaging with their debut record Will o’ Wisp, you’d find that holding the band to such preconceptions would be a profound mistake. Nekrokraft have…crafted…a seven song-affair that, while wearing its influences proudly on its sleeve, succeeds admirably in showcasing the band’s unique vision and songwriting approach.
The song structures shine as exemplary of the band’s ability to accomplish much given their self-imposed time constraints. Though the entire album speeds past in less than 30 minutes, with the average song clocking in at around three minutes, there’s a remarkable amount of variety present throughout the seven tracks. Chord progressions and accompanying melodies are smart and sensible, resolving when and where the listener’s ear naturally comes to rest, yet doing so without feeling tired or predictable. The songs themselves, while largely adhering to established structural conventions, each contain plenty of surprises to keep the listener engaged. I encountered just a handful of moments in my time with Will o’ Wisp at which I felt that a writing misstep might have been taken or that a decision could have been reconsidered.
Vocalist Angst displays a dynamic approach which contributes significantly to this album’s elevation above more mundane black metal offerings. His default mode of vocal delivery is a juicy, full-throated high-end rasp, yet he steps far outside these norms in his efforts to expand his footprint on the album’s soundscape. “Worship” and “Armageddon Unleashed” see him venturing deep below into the realm of guttural death growls, which are also layered at times underneath his standard scream for an added robustness not often found in black metal. “Hellfire” features snippets of hardcore-style gang vocals, while “Forestlurker” throws a surprise curveball with choral vocals and even a melodic bridge section.
Adding a welcome layer of nuance is drummer Moloch, a recent addition to the band and surely a stellar acquisition for them. Never relying too heavily on all-out blasts or rolling double-kicks, Moloch’s ever-shifting beats are an ideal complement to each riff as he artfully strings groove after groove together with smooth transitions and fills. Lead guitar melodies punctuate the album’s brutal, crunchy riffage with color and depth, with synths entering the arena at pivotal moments to provide additional textures and mood. At the other end of the sonic spectrum, the subtly mixed bass is felt more than overtly heard, keeping the songs firmly grounded on a solid, instinctual foundation.
Will o’ Wisp is a tight, smart release that rewards listeners with creatively crafted songs executed with precision and subtlety. While I could definitely do with a few more tracks, it’s well within the prerogative of a thrash band to keep things succinct and savage. The album is a promising debut for a band who I suspect to have many tricks still waiting up their tattered, grave-stained sleeves.