REVIEW: NECROWRETCH – “The Ones From Hell”
Old-school nostalgia has been a growing influence on extreme metal for the last decade with bands like Tomb Mold and Gatecreeper surprising modern death and black metal fans with their catalogs. French old school death metallers Necrowretch are on their fourth record The Ones from Hell following their breakout record With Serpents Scourge and the well-received Satanic Slavery harnessing more darkness and adding blackened tinges to their OSDM sensibilities.
Album opener Pure Hellfire is quite self-explanatory in its themes, pace, and quality. Opening with a Dissection-esque acoustic arrangement leading into a mid-placed doom-ed arrangement, after which Necrowretch plunges the listener into, well, Pure Hellfire! This track is filled to overflowing with blackened buzzy low-end tremolo-picked, thrash beats, and shrieked vocals. Everything you want from a blackened death metal track, and a terrific way to kick off a record! Other high points include immediate follow-up, Luciferian Sovranty (nope, that is the archaic way of spelling “Sovereignty” and not a hilarious typo) and Darkness Supreme. Codex Obscuritas opens with a riff cut straight from Slayer cloth and gets progressively even more Slayer-y with Vlad’s cartoonishly reverbed-to-hell-and-back vocals slathered all over it. In stark contrast, Absolute Evil is a faux-instrumental snoozefest that is all build-up and laughable payoff.
The guitar work also has an unpolished a “human” quality that leans heavily on nostalgia but can be often caught in its own clumsiness. The majority of The Ones from Hell is mired in number by tired generic tremolo-picked diminished scale runs. While the rhythm guitar riffs written by guitarist/vocalist Vlad and Wenceslas Carrieu are as stereotypical as they get, there are definite flourishes on The Ones from Hell which deserve praise. When Necrowretch decide to write riffs, they are instant earworms, as seen on title track The Ones from Hell and Codex Obscuritas, yet they are so few and far between, they are a positive and a negative simultaneously. The acoustic arrangements on Pure Hellfire and the blackened-death/doom track Through the Black Abyss are superlatively written and arranged, and solo on Darkness Supreme was a surprise dropkick. A lack of similar solos or flashier guitar work on the record diminishes the record and causes many of the tracks to blend into the great-but-heard-before territory.
A pleasant surprise on this record is how high the bass sits in the mix. Bassist Pierrick Debeaux rumbles away throughout the album without ruffling any feathers, but the sheer presence of the bass and the tones bring him to the front and adds sweet menace to the overall sound. The drum work on The Ones from Hell also adopts the old-school unquantized, more organic approach. The thunderous rolls on Pure Hellfire are cavernous, yet not wholly accurate, which is a personal peeve, but the inaccuracy may appeal to other listeners. Drummer Ilmar stays away from the genre trope of blast beats that we have come to expect on records in these extreme subgenres and instead has a predilection for thrashier arrangements which colors the tremolo-picked blackened riffs in a different light.
Necrowretch’s approach to vocal stylizing has always ground my gears. The excessive delay and reverb add to the blackened backdrop wear out its welcome very quickly. This is rather unfortunate because Vlad’s vocals are well-suited to the genre, with his raspy shrieks and staccato vocal arrangements but are heavily marred with the unfettered echo. The space occupied by the vocals in the mix also steals from dynamics in the instrumentation which deprecates the value of the total product.
The Ones from Hell is a by-the-books blackened death metal record with old-school nostalgia trimmings. Necrowretch doesn’t endeavor to reinvent the wheel or fix what isn’t broken, yet risks far too little, adding to a quickly saturating microgenre.