Necrophobic: Mark Of The Necrogram (Century Media Records)
If there was any doubt that the return of Swedish blackened death metallers Necrophobic was going to be celebrated, then the opening title track on this, their eight album, will leave you in no doubt. Blowing away any cobwebs that may have gathered, this is simply a monstrous release. Vocalist Anders Strokirk, whose evil incantations were last heard on The Nocturnal Silence in 1993 returned to the band in 2014. Former guitarists Sebastian Ramstedt and Johan Bergebäck also re-joined the ranks to complete the line-up with founding member/drummer Joakim Sterner and bassist Alex Friberg. The line-up on Mark Of The Necrogram is the fittest and most combat-ready the Swedes have had since Darkside split the heavens in 1997 and the band agree: “It feels like the band is the band again.” “Full dedication in everything we do. 100% metal people”.
Written over many black moons in 2017, Mark Of The Necrogram departs slightly from 2013’s Womb of Lilithu for a darker, more incisive sound. In fact, it may well be Necrophobic's most dynamic and varied offering to date. Songs like Odium Caecum, From The Great Above To The Great Below, Requiem For A Dying Sun and the massive Tsar Bomba retain all the ingredients that made the Swedes such an influential and legendary force but with added quality.
The band song writing, mainly completed by Ramstedt and filtered by Sterner to ensure the Necrophobic fit, explored deep into the destruction of life, with re-imagined invocations from Sumerian stone tablets, and explored Nordic mythology. “The lyrical theme on Mark Of The Necrogram continues where the album Death To All ended.” “The lyrics for the song Mark Of The Necrogram can be set on a timeline between Revelation 666 and Triumph Of The Horned. We created dark poems that match the ferocity of the songs”.
Co-Produced by former guitarist Fredrik Folkare (Firespawn, Unleashed), the result is an album that is blisteringly good. Refined riffage is the order of the day, ranging from the aggression of Sacrosanct to sorrowful on Tsar Bomba. The rhythm section of Sterner and Friberg shine on tracks like Pesta and Lamashtu whilst Strokirk’s deathly roars, haunting bawls, and wicked rasps complete the evil jigsaw. There is unlikely to be a better blackened death metal release all year. 10/10
Loudness: Rise To Glory (Sheer Sound)
The first Japanese metal band to sign for an American label, I’d forgotten that Loudness even existed. To discover that they have released an astonishing 25 albums before Rise To Glory and have continued to deliver their own brand of Eastern metal was quite a surprise. Formed way back in 1981, they briefly hit the radar with 1985’s Thunder In the East which contained some classic heavy metal. Rise To Glory sees the band continuing to deliver metal in much the same style, albeit with a little more polish on the production.
With three of the original members still very much involved, and drummer Masayuki Suzuki in place for close to a decade, the real surprise is that this is their first album for four years, since 2014’s The Sun Will Rise Again. Minoru Niharu’s vocals remain as crisp and clean as they did all those years ago whilst Akiri Takasaki’s guitar work is slick, fast and impressive. Loudness have always written in the classic heavy metal style, and opener Soul On Fire is a typical demonstration, fast paced and energetic. There are some lighter moments, such as the jazz-infused instrumental Karma Sutra, complete with a brief homage to Rush’s YYZ as well as some rather poor tracks, such as the ghastly power ballad Rain. A bit of a mixed bag but certainly worth checking it out. 6/10
Ritual King: Earthrise (When Planets Collide Records)
A fine second EP from Manchester three Ritual King. An eruption of heavy blues, stoner and psychedelic rock, this is impressive for the whole 15 minutes. Opener Ideology immediately demand the attention, sludgy riffs courtesy of guitarist Jordan Leppitt, whose vocals add gravitas and quality to the release. Tides is next, a filthy combination of Orange Goblin and Blues Pills, with added grime. Dan Godwin’s monstrous bass lines come into their own on the final track, But Anyway, which is another solid track which melts the fuse and quickly accelerates to full speed. Ritual King has provided a very neat release indeed. 8/10
Lark: Lark (Self-Release)
Lark is the debut release from French brothers, Raph, former guitarist and lead singer of Sail In Between and former bassist of Angher Incorporated and Zach, former drummer of Bright Curse. It’s a solid five-track beast, combining elements of Mastodon, Baroness, Russian Circles and Gojira in an almighty fireball. The cantering charge of Red Eye Final contrasts with the slower, bone crushingly heavy Decay and the haunting Too Far Gone, which at times is eerily like the Duplantier brothers sound, all the while dipping in and out of the progressive style that Mastodon has superbly crafted in recent years. It’s a deeply interesting release, with much going on and demanding several plays to appreciate fully. Well worth a listen. 7/10