Reviewed: April, 2018
Released: 2018 Self-released
Rating: 3 / 5
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Can’t say I’ve ever been too keen on gimmicky bands, though I will confess to rather liking Rammstein and Slipknot, and Gwar are fun to catch live every now and again. But I’m certainly not “down with the clown” and have no patience for pirate metal or Steel Panther or Baby Metal – and the less that is said about In This Moment or Butcher Babies, the better.
Which leads us to L.A.’s Nekrogoblikon who’s schtick – not surprisingly – revolves around goblins and who boast a “mascot” in John Goblikon who is essentially a horror-comedy take on Iron Maiden’s Eddie The Monster, or Mortiis during his elven days. He stars in their genuinely awesome videos and equally hilarious promo photos, serves as onstage hype man when they play live – and the “goblin lore” that surrounds him figures prominently in the ouevre of the band.
From a purely visual/conceptual perspective, it works like a charm. And it’s pretty obvious that the band aren’t lacking in self awareness – as evidenced by tracks like “We Need A Gimmick” from 2015’s Heavy Meta or their entire Goblin Island debut album from 2006 – and seem pretty intent on taking this goblin thing for as long as they can. But the music counts as well, and while Nekrogoblikon have gotten steadily more proficient and a bit less absurd with time, they are still playing a bit of catch up with their theatrics.
Their fifth full-length, Welcome To Bonkers is their most full realized yet, showing a range that moves a bit beyond merely aping The Black Dahlia Murder’s histrionics and adding an electronic/party rock spin – and, of course, goblins. There is still plenty of that here, but especially over the back half of the album the songs really start to branch out, adding elements of buoyant, piano-driven, almost Supertramp-like pop on the delightful “Magic Spider” – as well as some curious steel drums at the end – bluegrass/polka in the banjos and accordions on “Killing Time” and unexpected earnestness on the genuinely touching finale “Goblins.”
Even the more typically metallic fare here, like “Thanks For Nothing Moon,” “The Skin Thief” or the tech-deathy “Row,” are better conceived and executed – and sound especially sharp and bold thanks to the crackling production of Jason Suecof, who’s worked with Black Dahlia, Death Angel, Whitechapel, etc. And just about everything here has an undeniable catchiness, either in a shout-along chorus, rollicking groove, whimsical smattering of keyboards or crunching hook.
That said, there is still an inherent silliness that hangs heavy over Nekrogoblikon – and I guess always will – and is hard to shake even when the band is in top form. Melodic death metal and Andrew W.K.-like zaniness make for an uneasy partnership at best. And Nicholas Von Doom’s screeching vocals can be like nails across the chalkboard when his is full on, which is often. His shrieking “Dressed As Goblins” over and over in the song of the same name is torturous – as you can hear for yourself on the accompanying video below, though the video itself is pretty rad.
But if given a chance – by which I mean not dismissing them at the outset and actually taking a listen or three – Nekrogoblikon have a way of chipping away at the resolve of even the most hardened skeptic. Schticky though they may be, Nekrogoblikon have gone all in and made themselves all but impossible to resist.