San Diego’s Carnifex could very well be included in the wave of deathcore bands that really pushed the subgenre fusion of death metal and hardcore out of the DIY scene and into the mainstream extreme metal realm. Along with bands like Suicide Silence, Despised Icon, All Shall Perish, Chelsea Grin, Thy Art is Murder, and a few others, Carnifex formed the flagbearers against which many future deathcore bands would thence compare. Well, they have no plans of slowing down, and following quickly on the heels of 2021’s Graveside Confessions, Carnifex are back with their newest effort, Necromanteum.
And hoo boy it’s a real banger! That makes me so happy!
Folks here may have seen my lukewarm review of 2019’s World War X, wherein I groused that, though a competent record, Carnifex wasn’t breaking into any kind of sweat in the innovation and R&D department and would be quickly left by the wayside overtaken by younger upstart bands with much more to prove. Fortunately, Graveside Confessions was a more competent effort and leaned more heavily into the blackened deathcore niche, which some would say they pioneered (or at least defined) early in their discography. In that regard, Necromanteum is a further honing of that product, to a point where they have nearly perfected the fusion of the sheer brutality of classic deathcore tropes along with the menacing veneer of black metal.
As an apt example of this victorious dichotomy, opener “Torn In Two” spares no time and takes no prisoner, kicking us right in the teeth with its opening chugs and rarely lets up on its relentless ferocity, without the cliched and often cheesy ambient intro that seems to plague the newer copycats. Carnifex comes out swinging with a thrashy bruiser of a riff, confident in exactly what message they are trying to deliver with the opening moments of the record, and layers just enough symphonic malice without re-entering the “too much” zone. Further along in the record “Architect of Misanthropy” and “Bleed More” are just hilariously and ridiculously heavy!
What is immediately evident even by the first third of Necromanteum is how expertly arranged the keyboards are arranged and spaced throughout the tracks and record. The recent spate of blackened deathcore bands has relied overtly on densely layered and grandiose string arrangements, often drowning out the guitar work. Bands like Brand of Sacrifice, Worm Shepherd, and Lorna Shore have employed these tricks to early success, but the listening populace have grown tired of its ubiquity, along with its myriad slew of mediocre imitations. In this regard, Carnifex display their songwriting maturity with just how deft their arrangements of melody, and the juxtaposition of guitar and keyboard, aggression, and grandiosity to superlative results. Look no further than the expertly crafted title track “Necromanteum” as an example of how the central melody and sonic theme is carried in equal parts with the riffs as well as the backing strings with both elements supporting each other rather than trying to stomp all over each other!
In contrast, the track “Death’s Forgotten Children” leans more into the blackened elements, with lengthier tremolo-picked sections, featuring the stalwart shrieks of Chelsea Grin/Darko’s Tom Barber which seems perfectly apropos. In addition, “Crowned in Everblack” either consciously or unconsciously pays rightful homage to The Black Dahlia Murder and adds just enough melodic death and black metal flavor to keep things interesting. Carnifex has never been the one to rely only on caveman breakdowns to carry the runtime of a track/record and Necromanteum proves to be no exception to that rule. Modern deathcore could truly use more riffs, plain and simple. Not to mention the various guitar solos that are sprinkled all over the record rely on creating tasty licks rather than trying to fit as many notes as possible in a single bar, being yet another example of the might of their songwriting prowess over the bludgeoning of technical skill.
By the halfway point, it’s plain that every track on the record brings something fresh yet comfortably familiar to the Carnifex, even nudging themselves into almost Dimmu Borgir-esque segments on “The Pathless Forest”, and utilizing the djentier groovy side of the extended-range deathcore scene on “How The Knife Gets Twisted” which came as such a pleasant and shit-eating grin-inducing surprise in an otherwise cinematic track. As yet another example, “Infinite Night Terror” opens with a keyboard arrangement that in its ephemeral moments created a haunting soundscape over which Carnifex could carry out its bloody (and remarkably groovy) work. While other symphonic bands utilize keys and strings to create larger-than-life tapestries, Carnifex focuses on the smaller scale, taking its rightful background place to add snippets of evil and graveyard terror, giving auditory context to the album art.
Even in their more than competent discography, I don’t think the musicianship and songwriting on Carnifex has ever been more injected with vitality than on Necromanteum. Guitarist Cory Arford provides the classic Carnifex backdrop of black metal-infused breakdown-y goodness and newest member Neal Tiemann brings that much-needed fresh zest to the songwriting machine. Records like this are textbook examples of what a new songwriter can do to revitalize a band’s output. Bassist Fred Calderon holds his own on the low end, but being a bass player in a band with two downtuned extended range seven and eight-stringed guitar users seems like a fool’s errand. Drummer Shawn Cameron continues to be an absolute demon behind the kit effortlessly weaving in and out of ferocious blast beats, deathcore stomps, and steady-state double bass runs that would fatigue kids half his age. Where Cameron really shines on this record is his megalith work with the keyboard arrangements. It is clear that this aspect elevated the entire record for me, and according to the album credits, he is largely to be praised for this effort. More of this on future records, Carnifex!
The backbone of Carnifex’s continued success is vocalist Scott Lewis, by Lucifer, and all that is hellish, I struggle to think of a time when he has ever been stronger behind the mic. Debut vocalists struggle to provide the weight and range that he explores throughout the runtime of Necromanteum and this record has shot him straight up to the heavy hitters of the genre in my books. While other bands rely on cartoonishly extreme vocal gymnastics to appeal to YouTube/TikTok reaction videos, Lewis stays old-school and delivers a competent, nay a proficient, nay a masterful product!
Carnifex’s Necromanteum is a hellishly strong return to form breathing new life into an already veteran band catalog. Expertly crafted tracks with just enough variety and familiarity, Necromanteum could be the new standard against which all future blackened deathcore records are judged, with mature songwriting, a renewed emphasis on guitar riffs and solos, as well as some of the best keyboard arrangements in the game!
Overall Sound9/10 AmazingCarnifex’s Necromanteum is a hellishly strong return to form breathing new life into an already veteran band catalog.
Songwriting & Lyrics9/10 Amazing'Necromanteum' could be the new standard against which all future blackened deathcore records are judged, with mature songwriting, a renewed emphasis on guitar riffs and solos, as well as some of the best keyboard arrangements in the game!