After Death – Retronomicon (2007)
So I listened to this once and found it particularly melodramatic in its approach – a belief backed up by further listens. After Death is a continuation of Nocturnus, who gained some notoriety in the early ’90s for experimenting with keyboards, their sci-fi aesthetic, and major band member Mike Browning being a Morbid Angel alumnus. At some points, this becomes very obvious, but this compilation of demos contains a great deal more of intentional weirdness, which is (as one would expect) a double edged sword.
As this covers a few years of After Death’s history, listening to the entire compilation in one go reveals dramatic changes in the band’s sound; for whatever reason in the opposite order of each work’s release. A mid-paced, keyboard heavy death metal sound informs all of these tracks; with time, however, the band’s songwriting chops improve, resulting in more consistent and intense songs. It helps that the style the band’s performing in is conducive to heavy dynamics, which is something you don’t always see in extreme metal. Most of these dynamics go into the guitars and keyboard, however – Mike Browning uses a fairly clean shout reminiscent of Tom Araya to perform most of his vocals lines, which can be monotonous at times.
In general, there’s a push towards streamlining throughout the album, so that the latest material eschews some of the stranger elements of earlier works. Sometimes, though, it’s missed; on everything but the “Secret Lords of the Star Chamber Below” demo, a vocalist/keyboardist named Lisa Lombardo plays a major role. She provides much of the “weirdness”; her vocal performance often shades into spoken word, whispers, a couple of sexualized moans, although she also throws in some normal singing with good technique at times. Her keyboard parts aren’t as out there, although the limited fidelity of the equipment does lend the production an odd sheen at times. Meanwhile, the rest of After Death relies on primarily on their song structures (with lots of abrupt transitions and dynamic changes) to keep Retronomicon weird. When everything clicks, like the riff and guitar lead starting at ~1:30 in “The Star Chamber of Isis”, it makes for very atmospheric material, but if the transitions don’t fit, the entire song falls apart! The band plays with fire and occasionally gets burnt, although their success rate is better on later material.
Either way, After Death hasn’t done much beyond live performances after this – partially stymied in the USA because one incarnation of Nocturnus managed to trademark the name, but still. Half of this album’s strength is its novelty; some of the material succeeds simply because it’s out there. I would like to see an official studio album from the latest lineup of this band; I figure the extra polish, given the right staff, would only help them.
Highlights: “The Star Chamber of Isis”, “The Secret Cycle”, “0=2”, “Nocturnus”