Necrophagist - Epitaph

Review: Necrophagist – Epitaph

NECROPHAGIST
Epitaph (2004)

Germany, Relapse Records, Technical Death Metal

Why must you torture me like this Necrophagist? It’s true that I wouldn’t be the tech-death fanatic I am today without you, but since discovering bands like Gorguts, Cynic and Fleshgod Apocalypse, I’m put into a quandary; should I overlook the quibbles I have with your music or be the critic I am at heart and show the bit of tough love you won’t get from anyone else? YOU’RE TEARING ME APART MUHAMMED SUICMEZ!

In all seriousness however, Necrophagist was the band that demonstrated how wonderful tech-death and indeed death metal itself could be when I was a confused pseudo metalhead. When I first listened to “Epitaph”, I was convinced it was the epitome of musicianship; Necrophagist being surpassed was unthinkable. Slowly but surely, I ventured into Cynic and Atheist. The unshakable admiration I held for Necrophagist weened as I got further into ‘Focus’ and ‘Elements’. As soon as I heard Gorguts, it was as if my preconceived notions were smashed with a sledgehammer. The final nail in the coffin was listening to Fleshgod Apocalypse. If nothing else, I always figured that Necrophagist would remain the greatest neo-classical death metal band to ever roam the earth. That hope was quickly squashed underheel as well, which leaves me where I am today.

I would love to be able to say that “Onset Of Putrefacation” and “Epitaph” can hold Necrophagist fans over until the band decides that a new album was overdue four years ago and it’s been seven. I would love to be able to say that their work still holds up as some of the very best, regardless of the superior bands beforehand and the staggering amount of change that tech-death alone has been through. I would love to say all of those things, but I’m not a liar. It would be absolutely ridiculous to accuse Necrophagist of being untalented, but consider the situation like this; suppose you the reader marry a woman who’s wonderful in every conceivable way. She’s beautiful, intelligent and compassionate like you’ve never seen. You’re convinced that the magic can last forever, but seven years and two kids later she’s looking tired. She’s irritable in a way you never thought possible. You begin to notice idiosyncracies that suddenly seem inexcusable. Your best friend on the other hand is a swinger who’s sampled the best and brightest of the past seven years. Envy sets in as you can only hope the magic of seven years ago can return to relieve the drudgery. Being a fan of Necrophagist is a similar ordeal, except without children thankfully.

As I’ve hinted at, the most noticeable trait on this album is the musicianship; it’s very clear that every member of this band have mastered their respective instruments but they haven’t mastered making this listener (at the very least) feel something. As much as many would love to disagree, even when I blast bands like Brain Drill and Origin it prompts a very significant reaction and feeling, even if it’s limited to ‘HOLY SHIT HOW THE HELL DO THEY PLAY THAT FAST?’ Perhaps I’ve finally ventured into curmudgeon territory, but Necrophagist does not give me a palpable feeling. I appreciate what they do and I do headbang to it, but the emotions that I usually associate with listening to tech-death aren’t there. Despite influencing countless other bands (the most prominent example of which is Christian Muenzner’s band Obscura) I’m convinced that the students have surpassed the masters.

Although this may seem like a strange example, let’s take the vocals and lyrics on Epitaph into consideration; I’m no prude when it comes to death growls and Muhammed Suicmez is indeed an able growler. He is not an able lyricist however. Normally I don’t bother critiquing lyrics but with Necrophagist I feel the criticism is warranted because the rest of their music is sophisticated to the point of making this inexcusable. Stabwound kicks this album off, and is one of the worst offenders in this area excluding any song that Suicmez makes references to stillborn fetuses:

“Invisible blades penetrate
whereas stabwounds are not detectable.

Stabwound

The blade that stabs a back,
unsuspecting, forms the symbolic…

Stabwound

There is no shield to protect from
attacks led by the ones one used to trust.

Stabwound”

This is nowhere near up to par with the instrumental talent on display and I’m convinced that Necrophagist have two options,

1. Spend much more time on lyrics than they have.

2. Go instrumental.

Somewhere it would be a shame for them to lose Suicmez’s very proficient growl, but I’m still convinced that he was half assing here. It’s not as if the music doesn’t warrant intelligent lyrics. The engagement in the music does need to be thought out much more than it has. There are three songs on Epitaph that I can listen to at any given moment; Seven, Stillborn One and Diminshed To B. Every thing else has drifted from memory in a very significant fashion. This is usually the point where most Necrophagist detractors would make a quip about ‘everything sounding the same’ but I disagree with that. The songs are indeed different, but the ability to be fully immersed in them diminishes with each new track. The album is structured in such a way that the three most enjoyable tracks are scattered on different portions and even then listening to those songs can only be done in specific moments lest fatigue set in. Keep in mind that metal making me fatigued is limited to three specific instances; ‘kvlt’ black metal, Yngwie Malmsteen and now Necrophagist if played for too long. It pains me to say it,  but Necrophagist and Yngwie Malmsteen are similar in more ways than they superficially let on; supreme virtuosity with an extremely dedicated fanbase that leave a lot to be desired in listener involvement.

I’m sure many people will consider this review heresy that deserves to be punished with the appropriate lumber and a hefty nailgun, but I’m convinced that after a seven year delay and albums that show their faults more prominently with each passing day that Necrophagist will have to do a lot more than tread old ground to win me back as an ecstatic fan. I’d also recommend Fleshgod Apocalypse to every ecstatic fan of Necrophagist first and foremost. ‘In Honour Of Reason’, ‘Conspiracy Of Silence’ and anything off of their new album is more than enough for me to consider them the most immediate threat to Necrophagist’s unquestioned position of neo-classical death metal authority. The only question that remains is if Necrophagist is up to the challenge. Despite the critiques I’ve made in this review I hope they are, and regardless of whether their newest album is called ‘The Path To Naught’ or ‘Death To The Faithful’ they have more work than most bands care to ever have ahead of them. Bring it on Suicmez.

Rating: 7/10

Author: Goshuggist

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