In the music industry (much like life, I suppose), timing is everything. Shortly after the turn of the millennium, a remarkable traditional heavy metal band called Onward (featuring guitar virtuoso Toby Knapp and talented vocalist Michael Grant (R.I.P.)) released two stellar albums on Century Media Records. Unfortunately, old-school metal was not in vogue in those days, so the band never received even a fraction of the acclaim or success they deserved. But Onward continues to hold a special place in the hearts and minds of the faithful. So when Toby Knapp (who has gone on to do a wide variety of projects ranging from black metal to instrumental shred) gets involved with another traditional metal band, we sit up and take notice. Such is the case with Necrytis, which is actually the brainchild of drummer/vocalist Shane Wacaster. Knapp and Wacaster grew up together and played in a band together in the late 1980s, so when Wacaster needed a monster guitarist for Necrytis, he wisely enlisted the skills of his old friend Knapp. The trio, rounded out by Mark Sobus on bass, recently released their debut album, the enigmatically titled Countersighns.
You would be forgiven for assuming – from the band name, cover art and Knapp’s track record – that Necrytis is some kind of extreme metal project. You would also be wrong. Countersighns is a pure traditional heavy metal album through and through, with just a hint of black metal seeping into the guitars (not the vocals or the rhythm section) from time to time. Comparisons to Onward are inevitable, and not at all misplaced. There are undeniable similarities in terms of musical style, Knapp’s characteristic fiery guitar work, and the theatrical, emotional, slightly quirky vocals. On that last point, both the timbre of Wacaster’s voice and his delivery definitely recall the late, great Michael Grant in places, although I am also reminded of James Paul Luna (Holy Grail) and perhaps a touch of lower-register James Rivera (Helstar) throughout. Necrytis specialize in a brand of traditional metal that is dramatic, bombastic, moody and dark, equal parts Loudness and Sanctuary, if you will, with just a pinch of King Diamond. Also, Countersighns is a lyric junkie’s paradise, as Wacaster’s words are mysterious, poetic, and extremely well written (sample couplets “Footfalls in dust, blood turns to rust / Allegiance to the light, in dark we trust” or “While the shallow shrink and shirk their fate / The hateful rush the gates”). There is a red-line concept running through the album having to do with the afterlife, but it is intentionally enigmatic and open to interpretation, without ever coming across as heavy-handed or distracting. Somewhat surprisingly, given the lyrical complexity, the songwriting on this record is straightforward for the most part, showcasing 4-5 minute tunes with sturdy old-school riffs, well-defined choruses and memorable hooks, and leaving adequate real estate for Toby Knapp to go off on guitar, with just the occasional unconventional intro, sound effect or spoken-word bit.
To be perfectly candid, not everything in Countersighns clicks with me. There are spots where the melody choices, atmosphere and vocal phrasing are a bit grating. But those moments are vastly outnumbered by passages where the killer 80s-style riffing, catchy melodies and cryptic lyrics come together brilliantly. Songs like “My Asylum,” “Sentry’s Scream,” “Countersighns,” and “Palace of Agony” are simply fantastic and are sure to find favor with the defenders of the olde. Perhaps the best news is this: Not only is Countersighns an excellent debut album that is worthy of your scarce time and hard-earned cash, but also Necrytis are already nearing completion on a follow up, to be entitled Dread En Ruin. Keep your eyes peeled for it, but for now go check out Countersighns. You can get your copy at tobyknapp.bigcartel.com. Onward and upward!
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~