Necrowretch – Swords of Dajjal


French extreme metal fiends, Necrowretch, belong in the same class as Seth, Otargos, Putrid Offal and Mercyless. Formed in 2010 by Vlad (not his real name) as a one-man grinding death metal project, he bagged a deal with Century Media for his 2013 debut and moved over to Season of Mist in 2017 for albums number three and four. Now he has a full band behind him and a new momentum after the Covid lockdowns put an end to his touring plans with Kampfar and Taake in 2020. His predecessor LP, The Ones from Hell, had little chance for promotion, but Vlad used the last three years wisely to take singing lessons, invest in better equipment, and spend more time in the studio. The result is Swords of Dajjal, a record that takes the Islamic anti-Christ as its protagonist and a new infusion of black metal as its aesthetic.

You must always ask if a black metal band sounds evil, just as you must always ask if a woman that comes up in conversation is attractive. Call it instinct. The answer is an undoubted affirmative on this record. An expressive mid-range arpeggiated riff invites the drums and bass to tease their way into the mix of opener, ‘Ksar Al-Kufar’, before the inevitable blast beats get into gear. You might imagine a yawn brewing at the back of your throat, but Vlad and his fellow axeman, Wenceslas Carrieu, show great respect for the higher strings of their guitars in their obtuse chord choices. Musically, they draw from the prog metal of Queensrӱche in their more melodic parts, although that might not be intentional. Nevertheless, the main thrust of this song is as malevolent as Otargos. Vlad places his music on that cusp of death and black metal that is much more interesting than either of them as standalone sub-genres.

The anti-clerical tradition of France’s intellectuals is strong, but Necrowretch’s focus on the Islamic perception of Satan gives the music a unique angle to black metal’s veneration of Lucifer. “There is no god but Satan / That is worthy of worship / Shall you pass the door of dark knowledge?” growls Vlad in ‘The Fifth Door’. He spent some time in Turkey in the 2010s and immersed himself in the evil spirits of the world rather than the virtuous ones of the Muslim religion. A terrific roar at 02:30 sounds like a man being obliterated by a white-hot laser. The reset to mystical folk guitar passages in the last part of the song allows them to introduce ritualistic drum patterns for one more homage to Dajjal.

Many of the songs here use illustrative tremolo rhythms and drums that sound like bulldozers in neutral gear. The tempo is not as annihilatory in its speed as 2017’s Satanic Slavery. ‘Dii Mauri’ promises a total wipeout in the mould of Immortal’s brand of ultra-fast blackened thrash metal with ubiquitous blast beats in the first twenty seconds before the band second-guess you and slow things down into an agitated beat of circular drums. This is one of the benefits of having more time in the studio. The production resonates with a surprising clarity without muddying the convergence of instruments. Of course, there’s nothing too original here, but it’s not excessive enough to lose your interest after three songs. Those that love the debut Emperor record will find much to appreciate in this song. Faint horn arrangements pulsate in the background like unspoken truths waiting to be broadcast by Islam’s secret apostates.

Seldom do the guitarists choose anything other than the most perilous of power chords in the slower moments of doom. The title-track pushes the crunch of the guitars to the fore in the mid sections like a virus approaching its zenith of potency. Nothing is flat in the vocal projections – if anything they stand out in the mix due to their agonising theatrics. Often, the axemen slide among the fifth chords with a solid determination to avoid anything resembling a melody – that’s why it sounds so evil. ‘Numidian Knowledge’ includes a welcome transition to enchanting folk guitar-picking and tribal percussion. But it never deviates from its core purpose of dragging non-believers into hell.

Necrowretch are neither underrated (they released their first two albums via Century Media) nor overrated (how many people outside France know them?). They appear to settle for a standard black metal fodder in ‘Vae Victis’, but the change of tempo and switch to more technical guitar shapes suggests that they soon grew tired of the predictable aspects of this song. That deserves praise. The succession of mid-tempo Celtic Frost riffing with Obituary’s guitar tone is most welcome to these ears.

The message of this album is clear: “I’ll be the death which will kill the world / A nightmarish fate of wrath and greed / I’ll be the beast which will speak in tongues / A prophet of doom, scorn and grief.” Guitars that grind like industrial meat cutters aim for the bone on closing track, ‘Total Obliteration’. Does it deliver on its promise? Yes, it does. The discordant outputs land like acid rain on human heads. A welcome slowdown at 02:10 allows you to take shelter before the next wave of cataclysmic terror arrives. If only the snares in the blast beats did not sound like ghost notes under the click of the bass drums.

France has a thriving scene of fiendish blackened death metal bands. You can include Necrowretch in this category after this effort. Swords of Dajjal is not groundbreaking, but it enjoys shaking the earth beneath you.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 02/02/2024

Record Label: Season of Mist

Standout tracks: Ksar Al-Kufar, Swords of Dajjal, Numidian Knowledge

Suggested Further Listening: Mercyless – Mother of All Plagues (2020), Otargos – Fleshborer Soulflayer (2021), Seth – La Morsure Du Christ (2021)