Oct 31, 2021

Necromantia - To the Depths We Descend... (2021)

Genre: Black Metal
Location: Greece
Label: The Circle Music
Listen: Bandcamp
Website: Instagram

I am not old enough to have lived the second wave of black metal as it happened. I didn't even get into the genre through a ladder of traditional bands during my first interactions with it, and at first I can say I really didn't get it. I listened to a lot of classic albums way too late and for a long time, interest was limited to frostbitten, maniac caterwauling from the North. It is one of the reasons I have never had a huge attachment with Greece's scene, apart from its importance of course.

What did happen at a quite sensitive age back then though was my encounter of Necromantia's Ancient Pride EP (one of their most popular releases), through a physical magazine that distributed it, and it was a kickstart not only to check the band but to look around what was happening in my neighborhood too. Ancient Pride is still one of my favorites exactly because of this reason, yet I don't stand a chance in a discussion with fans that have been following the project from the beginning and have researched into their material. Necromantia righteously claim rights for one of the most unique groups in black metal as a whole, they have the respect of the underground and more mainstream alike, and they have been highly influential for the scene, worldwide. 

After Baron Blood's passing, news started brewing about a farewell EP and the closure of Necromantia. A while later, the EP became a full album, and it took a while longer to release. As it has been stated by Magus himself, but is fairly obvious from the title and lyrics, To the Depths We Descend... is a record strongly personal to the band and serves plainly as a swan song, rather than a new release. Featuring new material, and re-recordings of old classic songs, a farewell to Baron Blood and the final chapter of one of the most important extreme metal bands of the country, is here. All this is understandable, but what I would have never expected is a significant change in the instrument arrangement, one that gave them their most characteristic quality: there is no more 8 string bass. And on top of that, you get to hear guitars. Balance has been disturbed so much, that the next step might be a Barathrum folk metal album.

Furthermore, what is this artwork? It didn't hit me well, especially coming from a cult band like that, to have such a digitally bright, video game artwork. In Game of Thrones terms, this artwork is the equivalent of the CGI-flooded Mountain - Hound fight in the last episode, while their earlier material go closer to the realistic, sincerely brutal and uncomfortable Brienne - Hound fight from the fourth season. I'm deliberately making a millennial analogy to this issue to establish my background, and while it's not an ugly artwork per se, it's not engaging at all to the album's concept despite the clarity of its depiction. Things like these make not buy a record, because it is too far from the aesthetics I am looking for in this music. 

The line up for To the Depths We Descend... features, apart from Magus of course, drum war machine Maelstrom, who is probably playing on every Greek black metal band right now, and George Emmanouel on the guitars (oh, the guitars...). Influence by the two must have been huge in the musical outcome, and they are both quite efficient. Most of the guitar lines in the album are quite potent, the drumming is on point as always, and the synths / electronics add a lot of epicness in the compositions. There's plenty of melodic riffing, a few harsher moments, and the listener will have the chance to enjoy ancient tracks like "The Warlock" and "Lord of the Abyss", re-played under this new light that found Necromantia in 2021. 

While the whole record is a tribute to Baron Blood, one of the more emotional moments appears towards the end of "And the Shadows Wept" where a narration directly to him is spoken. Album opener "Daemonocentric" is a banger, there is a beloved spookiness in the keys and melodies of "Inferno" and "Eldritch" and bass is given some justice with its own piece "Give the Devil his Due". A warm instrumental with more experimental nuances, "To the Depths We Descend" hits before the old tracks kick in. To the Depths We Descend... is a seemingly rewarding record, which makes it an odd case to formulate an opinion on.

While the Greek black metal sphere worships the album like there's no tomorrow, I sincerely hope in a parallel universe, the final Necromantia record would have been something different. A rawer, complex record that glorifies their uniqueness and originality. One album that pays homage to their past not simply by re-recording old tracks with the cleanest production possible. One that doesn't diverge from its past so much that it smashes one of the vital instruments for its sound, the bass, completely out of existence. And instead, throws in two and a half minutes of a bass interlude to trick the audience and relieve its conscience. I can guarantee you will like this album when you listen to it, but for me it's lacking, yet in really discrete ways. 

Rest in chaos, mighty Necromantia!

1. Daemonocentric
2. And the Shadows Wept...
3. Give the Devil His Due
4. Inferno
5. Eldritch
6. To the Depths We Descend...
7. Lord of the Abyss MMXXI
8. The Warlock MMXXI

Damage: 2.5/5 [Average]

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