My initial exposure to San Francisco’s old school death metal overlords NECROT was, fittingly, the most old school introduction possible. Flicking through the cassette sale bin at the record store near my house, I stumbled across a gruesome looking tape with an impaled, armored skeleton on the cover and some pretty obviously DIY inserts. It had a spiny logo, and it was three dollars, and thus it was the kind of buy I thought of as a no-brainer. As luck would have it that day, the guy that rang me up was Elijah from BLACK BREATH, and when he asked me if I’d heard of the band before, I did what any young headbanger trying to preserve his scene cred would do, and lied that yes, I’d heard the name, and very good things about it. He went on to tell me that those dudes were his homies from California, and that they were some of the same guys who played in ACEPHALIX; and so, suspicions confirmed, I went home and spun the self-titled demo of what would later become one of my favorite death metal bands. Being asked to review Necrot’s forthcoming record, THE LABYRINTH, was therefore no minor honor for me, in addition to being a mildly interesting “small world” story… or at least a mildly interesting “small underground” story.
Metal nerd anecdotes aside, I should preface this review by explaining that THE LABYRINTH, which will serve as Necrot’s first full-length album, is a compilation of all their material to date – the demo mentioned above, along with the band’s two follow-up releases, INTO THE LABYRINTH and THE ABYSS, which all came out between 2012 and 2014. As a result, it’s a clean, convenient package for longtime fans of the band and a perfect introduction/history lesson for their new followers – of which there will be many, since Necrot’s now going steady with the infamous TANKCRIMES RECORDS. It also makes for a consistently interesting and exciting album, since listeners are able to hear Necrot progress through three distinct stages of production and songwriting in real time. Enough beating around the bush, though, this band is one of the most vital and creative death metal acts around, and if there’s any justice, THE LABYRINTH is going to be regarded as one of 2016’s best releases.
“Consume Control” and “Contagious Pain,” both drawn from the self-titled tape, show Necrot in their most primordial state. Bands like AUTOPSY and ASPHYX are immediately brought to mind, and the songs have a considerable amount of death/doom influence when compared to the rest of the album – everything is on the slightly slower and heavier side, but with a strong thrash/punk air which keeps the tracks from ever becoming sluggish or dull. We’re able to see the roots of what makes Necrot so effective, most notably their ear for good hooks, like the hardcore-esque repetition of “as your life dwells in misery” on the first track. These dudes have always known how to structure a song, and every change in feel, every shifting riff, every accent note in these tracks is perfectly placed. As we go deeper into the record and explore the second “stage” of sorts, we see Necrot honing their style and getting more frantic, more relentless, more punishing – “Into the Labyrinth” kicks off at the fastest tempo we’ve heard yet and brings a good amount of blasting and tremolo-picked riffs to the table. Rest assured, “The End” and “Cycles of Pain” still contain every OSDM element we love, but they’re much more techy, experimental, and energetic than the album’s first two tracks.
Perhaps the best section of the album, though, is its last. “Scattered,” “Rebirth in Pain,” and “The Abyss” continue the progression we’ve seen before, and show the band at their highest point yet. The dissonant, almost-black-metal background melodies midway through the first track sculpt one of the most unique and attention-commanding touches on the record, and “Rebirth” brings us a deadweight breakdown riff followed by some beautiful, SLAUGHTER OF THE SOUL harmonized solos. It’s immensely technical, but every piece of grit remains at the forefront and despite the more-produced direction, nothing ever feels sterile or soulless. These are some of the longer songs in Necrot’s catalog, but they’re also the catchiest ones. Put simply, everything is faster, heavier, and hookier, and watching this band perfect their formula throughout a single LP record is an absolute marvel.
Too many bands use OSDM as an excuse to make themselves seem interesting, to distinguish from the overproduced tech-death drivel universally hated in the underground scene, but it oftentimes reeks of the same redundancy and uniformity. Necrot play old school death metal in the realest, trvest sense of the term, but they deserve to be called so much more than that. THE LABYRINTH is a completely solid, constantly surprising, five-star cut of the finest metal California has to offer, and one that pushes the boundaries of what OSDM can become with the right skill and orchestration. Every period of this band’s (still young) legacy hits the nail right on the head, and makes for one of the most refreshing death metal records CVLT Nation has heard in a long time. Necrot is killing, and learning fast, and they have nowhere to go but upward.
THE LABYRINTH comes out on CD and LP on Friday, April 15th via Tankcrimes, and Sentient Ruin Laboratories will be taking care of the cassette release. While you wait, order some Necrot merch from their Bandcamp, and keep up with them on Facebook here.