Symphonic death metal, when done right (Septicflesh’s Titan, or Shade Empire’s Omega Arcane, for example) is a life-affirming event. Inspiring, uplifting and staggering in its technical prowess, as well as ticking all the prerequisite ‘brootal’ boxes. The Canadian outfit, Necronomicon, do their best to follow these footsteps on Unus, their sixth full-length in an impressive career spanning three decades and, for the most part do a convincing job of it.
The drawback comes in any kind of comparison being drawn; where bands like Fleshgod Apocalypse blur the lines between metal and orchestration so effectively that you’re never even aware of them, Necronomicon have a distinctive ‘symphonic’ section that, in all honesty, could be done away with. The Lovecraft-themed death metal this band produces is of a very high standard indeed and sadly, the addition of the choirs, brass and string sections all translate as superfluous gimmickry – the musical equivalent of putting a drop-shadow on text in a powerpoint presentation to make it ‘pop.’ Without these, Unus (purchase/stream here) would be a wonderful, shifting, organic celebration of one of the richest, darkest mythoi in modern fiction. Instead, hard-hitting, well-structured songs like “From Ashes into Flesh” and “The Thousand Masks” lose their impact in unnecessary flourishing.
“Paradise Lost,” one of the heavier offerings on Unus, stands as testament to this argument.
The interludes on the album – “The Price of a Soul” and “Fhtagn” are exceptions: their instrumental atmospherics are absolutely spot-on, and perfectly placed in the flow of the album, imparting a tingling sense of dread. Model examples of calm before the storm in musical form. Album closer “Vox Draconis” is the most well-constructed arrangement in this regard, as the symphonics take a backseat role and thereby more effectively support, rather than overshadow, the music. The slow burn introduction of “Ascending the Throne of Baator” is one of the most unsettling pieces of conceptual death metal in a long time. Its toxic atmospheres favourably recall the quasi-industrial misanthropy of Dimmu Borgir’s “Puritania.”
While a fan of all things Lovecraft, Arkham and Cthulhu, I have to admit that Necronomicon’s older releases transport me to R’lyeh and the dreamland, with 2013’s The Rise of the Elder Ones being the album I am most familiar with. Unus becomes an apt name, in this case, as this album really is ‘one alone’ – a standout work that hints at Necronomicon’s legacy and potential in equal measure, but doesn’t quite live up to either.
Enjoy the official stream of “Ascending the Throne of Baator” here.
Unus Track Listing:
01. From Ashes into Flesh
02. Infinitum Continuum
03. Paradise Lost
04. The Price of a Soul
05. Singularis Dominus
06. The Thousand Masks
07. Ascending the Throne of Baator
09. Cursed MMXIX
10. Vox Draconis
Run Time: 40:10
Release Date: October 18, 2019
Record Label: Season of Mist