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Necrophobic – Darkside (1997)

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Necrophobic’s debut (The Nocturnal Silence) has a melodic sense to it often reminiscent of contemporary black metal. Darkside accentuates that, but while much of this album resembles the black metal its lead guitarist David Parland slung on the side (read: early Dark Funeral), it’s still got at least one foot firmly planted in the death metal camp. It’s certainly a hybrid, and it’s also certainly a leaner, faster, more aggressive recording than its predecessor. A good analogy here is Slayer’s evolution from Hell Awaits to Reign in Blood – lifted band name aside, this sort of adjustment in sound is in itself not without precedent.

Much like what happened with Reign in Blood is, Darkside is therefore a simpler and exaggerated take on its predecessor’s ideas. To reiterate after years of lessons from black metal in particular – simple music is not innately bad. It can be if you don’t have the skills or motivation to make the most of your minimalism, but many primitive-sounding recordings have stuck in my mind for years, and even managed to reveal their hidden depths over time. Does Darkside do this? The answer is a firm “sort of” – at 37:55, the album has more bytes on its CD than I initially suspected, but there’s a good chunk of filler strewn throughout this relatively short length. This was actually a problem I noticed over time with The Nocturnal Silence, and it took me a while to figure out exactly why parts of both albums weren’t sticking after repeated listening.

With Necrophobic’s debut, I initially decided the main problem was that they weren’t going all out with the candy coated melodies. Amongst other things, Darkside is full of consonant, if stereotypically evil sounding melodic riffs, so it seems likely that the band thought similarly. It turns out that ratcheting up the sugar factor isn’t always the best answer, at least given the simpler song structures. This results in an album that lacks a lot of the nuance and intellectual power that made its predecessor’s high points work. It’d help if the production was similar, but as far as I’m concerned, The Nocturnal Silence dealt with this better as well. Its cleaner and deeper sounds sell it more effectively than this album’s more trebly yet muddled mix. I don’t actually know if Necrophobic was trying to go for a more overtly blackened sound; to be fair, it’s a relatively minor change.

Ultimately, if I want an album that blurs the line between the constellation of extreme metal subgenres, I would probably go with something other than Darkside. It seems like quite a step down from its predecessor.

Highlights: “Black Moon Rising”, “Bloodthirst”, “Nailing The Holy Out”

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Necrophobic – The Nocturnal Silence (1993)

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Long delayed reviews are always interesting to start, and The Nocturnal Silence is no exception. Necrophobic, at least in their early work, is a great example of the processes that lead to the existence of a unique Swedish black metal scene; one founding member (David Parland) even went on to found Dark Funeral, for whatever that’s worth. The Nocturnal Silence is too close to the ‘death metal’ end of the spectrum (even accounting for the simultaneous birth of the Gothenburg “melodeath” scene) to be counted amongst their numbers, but its early…ish grafting of melodic black metal tropes onto polished death metal songwriting is certainly worth a listen.

While the description and the title track (which I previewed first) served to draw me in, the actual melodies of The Nocturnal Silence were sparser than expected. In many cases, they’re monophobic with little in the way of harmonies to back them, which is admittedly quite standard for many varieties of death metal. Furthermore, this melodic approach doesn’t keep the band from exploring the more chromatic and dissonant material I usually associate with death metal. Most songs have a few sections of keyboard accompaniment or guitar leads to add extra breadth to the sound, but in general, I found Necrophobic alternates between both of these approaches. It makes sense on some level – you can’t exactly have and not have an accompaniment at the same time! In general, while this always counts as ‘melodic’ death metal, you won’t hear the constant harmonizing of some of this album’s successors.

Ultimately, the high points of The Nocturnal Silence seem to be built from restraint and cohesion, which isn’t exactly what I expect the more conventionally musical death metal to excel in, but it’s the card we’ve been dealt. On this album, Necrophobic excels at weaving the riffs written together into a cohesive whole and thusly matching their musical narrative to the lyrics being growled. The controlled application of melody allows them to effectively mix the multiple influences they had into a coherent whole, so there’s definitely a working formula on display here. Might be too coherent, though; the worst flaw of this album is that its second half feels derivative of the first. There aren’t really any major musical language changes throughout the album, so you could argue the weaker material got shoved to the back. I wouldn’t say this risk is innate to that kind of album, but it’s still unfortunate to see it here. Still, you get a strong collection of songs, and a blueprint for one of the more popular ways to expand death metal, so there has to be something of value here.

Highlights: “Awakening”, “Unholy Prophecies”, “The Nocturnal Silence”