To the Depths We Descend...

Where do legends go when they die?

Well, in the case of Greece’s seminal Black Metal act Necromantia, the answer is… uh… probably Hell, right? I bet they’d be pretty surprised and disappointed to find themselves crossing the pearly gates instead…

Necromantia, along with legendary acts Rotting Christ and Varathron, is widely regarded as being one of the pioneers of the unique Greek Black Metal scene. To that end, the band always bucked trends by adding some unusual elements to their sound – namely substituting a rhythm guitar with an 8-String Bass, to go on top of singer The Magus’” OTHER bass, and filling out the rest of the band with a rotating cast of session guitarists and drummers and saxophonists (no really) and such. The resulting sounds were sometimes epic, other times harsh and raw, other times… just goddamned weird.

Sadly, two years ago, founding member and 8-string bassist Baron Blood died. The band later let the world know that they’d release one more swansong album – that being the appropriately titled “To The Depths We Descend…” I was very interested with how this thing would play out without such a foundational piece of the Necromantia formula in place. The short answer is – I’m very conflicted.

This is arguably the best and most complete Necromantia record ever made. But also… is this really a Necromantia record?

Here’s the thing. The band really leaned into the whole “we’ve got two bassists” thing before, and now – this is a straight-up traditional 3-piece of guitars, drums and a bassist/vocalist. That alone is certainly enough to alter the direction of this album. But this album also sounds FUH. KING. GREAT. Anyone who knows this band knows that production quality was always, like, priority 7 or 8 on the list. Not so this time, friend. Nay, they must have said “fuck it, it’s the last hurrah!” and decided to go ahead and properly record and produce this beast. Probably helps that guitar AND production duties this time around were handed to Pentagram Studio producer George Emmanuel, who had a hand in the engineering and production of sonic masterclasses like Rotting Christ’s Rituals, Speticflesh’s The Great Mass, and Yoth Iria’s excellent Under His Sway EP. As such, To the Depths We Descend… sounds as vibrant and robust as you’d expect with such pedigree behind the knobs. Which is, again, FUCKING WEIRD!

Emmanuel’s impact is also most certainly felt in his excellent musicianship. From the excellent, epic solo work on “And the Shadows Wept,” to the violent and frenzied tremolo-picked riffing on “Inferno” and “The Warlock MMXXI,” this is, again, the best guitarwork ever put to a Necromantia record by, like, a country mile. But then again, this is probably the first time THIS much emphasis was put on the guitars at all, so I suppose it stands to reason. He also does an excellent job with the keyboard orchestrations, creating lush atmosphere and depth that does a much better job of balancing with the rest of the music than on prior efforts. 2008’s The Sound of Lucifer Storming Heaven had some downright epic orchestrations, but it sometimes felt awkwardly layered over the tinny, more lo-fi instrumentation.

Now, all this is fine and good (shit, at times, it’s GREAT), but as I mentioned earlier, I am struggling to necessarily identify this as a true Necromantia record. I respect the hell out of the decision to not just throw some other 8-String Bassist into the mix, but the lack of 8-String leads and solos on this record really is missed, if only for its unique character. There are brief instances where they let Magus’ bass take center stage, though it’s mostly confined to instrumental track “Give the Devil His Due,” which feels more interlude than actual song. They do also bring back a brief appearance of weirdness with some saxophone work on second instrumental, “To the Depths We Descend,” which plays like some bizarro-world Kenny G evil alter-ego (I promise I don’t mean that as a diss, it sounds really cool). But somehow, there’s just not quite ENOUGH weird shit going on in this record. This is a technically sound, well written record, and yet I feel like it’d be even better if it was… worse? Not worse, just… more out there.

I’ll reiterate to make sure I’m clear about this – this record is friggin’ great. Take away the name attached to it, and this is a damn fine serving of Mediterranean Black Metal that would make any metalhead worth their weight in calamari very happy. And look, for The Magus to put the final nail in this project’s coffin with such a fucking massive effort, that’s pretty friggin’ cool, too. It’s my own preconceptions and attachment to Necromantia’s work that’s keeping me from necessarily calling this, in my heart, their last record. So I dunno, maybe just cover the name on the label with your thumb and pretend this is a new project altogether if you have to, because you want this record in your life.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
November 2nd, 2021


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