(Pure Steel 2018)
One of the trickiest things about reviewing albums is trying to predict which ones will have staying power. Sure, a new album may sound great now, but will it still thrill you six months and 25 spins from now? Or will it fade? It’s so hard to know. Case in point: Necrytis’ debut album, Countersighns. I gave it a strong review last fall, and deservedly so, but I had no idea at the time that Countersighns would become one of my most-played (and favorite) albums of the latter part of 2017 and the first part of 2018. Somehow I kept reaching for it, and it kept getting better and better. Even aspects of the songwriting that had confused or befuddled me grew to make sense and, indeed, fit perfectly in the scheme of the album. Countersighns has been a faithful companion to me, indeed. So imagine how ecstatic I was to learn that Necrytis has a brand-new album, Dread En Ruin, coming out via Pure Steel Records at the end of June. The band received their CD copies from the label a month early, so I ordered one posthaste and now here it is.
I guess I should back up. For those unfamiliar with the band, Necrytis is a (mostly) traditional metal band featuring the insanely talented American guitarist Toby Knapp and UK-based drummer/vocalist Shane Wacaster. If the name Toby Knapp makes you think wistfully of the amazing, sadly overlooked Onward (who released two stellar albums on Century Media just after the turn of the millennium), then you’re in luck. Necrytis are in many ways a continuation of the classic Onward sound, from the riffs and melodies to even the urgent vocals of Shane Wacaster, which recall the late, great Michael Grant. Here’s the thing, though: The Onward comparison is valid and helpful, but it only goes so far because there’s a lot more going on with Necrytis. Stylistically, Necrytis remain predominantly on the classic metal path, but there are also hints of everything from Mercyful Fate malevolence to Voivod dissonance to thrashy energy to even bits of piano and other assorted weirdness. Also, Wacaster’s excellent lyrics come from a place of sci-fi/supernatural darkness. I read an interview where he said the lyrics tell the story of the Necrytis, a fictional being that helps the dead get where they’re going. At any rate, they are quite well-written, thoughtful and provocative, as here: “The weight of all that’s wrong / Has paved your way with diamonds and gold / But all you’ll find is the soul you sold.” Perhaps it is all this richness of musical and lyrical detail that causes Necrytis’s music to hold up so well on repeated plays.
Dread En Ruin picks up very much where Countersighns left off. Opener “Starshine” is simply brilliant, showcasing Necrytis at their best and most memorable. Another favorite is “Call Us Insanity,” with its superb speedy main riff, its frenetic energy, its anthemic chorus, and its haunting “whoah” chanting part. All of these songs are packed with compelling riffs, captivating melodies, and interesting ideas. In contrast to Countersighns, the songs on Dread En Ruin are quite lengthy, with the six tracks spanning 49 minutes and the tunes clocking in at between 6 and 13 minutes. These extended song forms actually play to Necrytis’s strengths. This band doesn’t want to ride a straightforward riff into a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus formula. Freed from temporal constraints, Knapp and Wacaster can follow these songs wherever they may lead. It’s often a meandering road, but it never gets boring as the tracks are brimming with cool parts. What’s more, Necrytis have enough of a sense of structure and songwriting that they always return to the familiar riffs, themes and melodies in a way that makes for coherent songs rather than an unfocused mishmash of ideas. Top it off with a production that is delightfully unpolished (you can even hear the hum of Toby’s amp in some of the quiet bits), yet still clear and powerful, and you’ve got a winner.
The way I’d some things up is like this: If you heard and liked Countersighns, then Dread En Ruin is mandatory. If you’re an Onward fan, then both Necrytis albums are mandatory. If you’re a traditional metalhead, and you don’t mind being challenged by a touch of quirkiness or a bleed-through of other influences and styles, then Dread En Ruin is highly recommended. As for me, I am excited by the prospect of exploring the nooks and crannies of this album in the coming months, and fully expect it to establish a regular presence in my playlist. And Necrytis have big plans for the future too. From what I understand, they intend to begin recording album #3 late this summer, with an eye towards a spring 2019 release date. Here’s hoping they can continue the remarkable roll they’re on. These first two are special albums, indeed.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~