Reviewed: October 2019
Released: 2019 Season Of Mist
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Led by frontman/guitarist Rob “The Witch” Tremblay, with an ever-revolving cast of co-conspirators, Montreal’s Necronomicon have championed a “symphonic blackened metal” mix of pomp, power, finesse and mysticism that is surprisingly rare on this side of the pond for 30-some years – and, thus, should not be confused with the German thrash band of the same name. And while the trio – founded in Saguenay, home to a fjord of the same name – remains curiously underrated, despite a fine body of work covering five albums and an EP since 1996, they have kept after it without compromise.
Unus is Necronomicon’s sixth full-length and finds Tremblay working again with new teammates. Long-time drummer Éric “Rick” Bastien, who played on the band’s four previous albums, is replaced here by Jean-Philippe “Divider” Bouchard, with Tremblay handling guitar, bass and vocals, along with production. A new bassist, Razputin, has since joined the fold. Yet the album fits quite comfortably in the Necronomicon discography.
Unus gets off to a suitably extravagant start with the flighty “From Ashes Into The Flesh” and its opulent ballet of strings, choirs and keyboards – with Dimmu Borgir’s Geir “Gerlioz” Bratland contributing the piano parts. From there, though, the band settles into a grand, albeit vicious, groove of surging death metal punctuated by black metal tinges, powered by Tremblay’s corrosive churn-and-trem riffs and bellicose roar and Bouchard’s blazing double-bass/blast tempos.
At the same time, though, there is a surprising “catchiness” to much of the material. And I don’t mean that in a toned downed or commercialized way aimed at greater appeal. It’s just that Tremblay has injected a greater amount of hookiness and groove into the tumult here, giving barnburners like “Paradise Lost” and “Singularis Dominus” a distinct headbang-ability. Unus boasts perhaps the most solid collection of songs Necronomicon have ever done.
Yes, there is a definite similarity to the sound and approach of Dimmu Borgir and Septicflesh here. But Necronomicon have been careful to, for the most part, keep the symphonic embellishments as just that – embellishments – instead of overdoing them and diminishing the overall effect, something that has been especially problematic with recent Dimmu releases. The Eastern tinges on “The Thousands Masks” are pretty cool, especially when pared with the serpentine strings and Bouchard’s martial battery.
Still, even with the band’s more “restrained” take on orchestration, a song like the lean and mean “Cursed MMXIX” seems out of place given the simplicity of its arrangement and snub-nosed delivery. It’s a hardcore/death metal brawler of a tune, but without any of the accents of the other material it feels unfinished, which is a shame. The closing track “Vox Draconis” takes a similar approach at the start, but concludes in a wash of synths and choirs
Necronomicon continue to get better and smarter with age – even as the members continue rotate in and out, which speaks volumes to Tremblay’s passion and dedication. Unus is an imposing step forward from 2016’s Advent Of The Human God, and is the kind of album that gets the “symphonic extreme metal” thing just about right.