Album Title: Swords Of Dajjal
Label: Season Of Mist: Underground Activists
Date of Release: 2 February 2024
For once, it was not the cover artwork that drew me to this release. I mean, look at it. It’s awful. Well, that’s my personal opinion, in any case. The central figure resembles one of the more comical Orcs from the Lord Of The Rings films from the turn of the Millennium rather than the antichrist from the Muslim religion, whilst the colour scheme and design just puts me off, even though I know what they were going for in terms of desert sunlight. Fortunately, before I could say ‘thanks, but no thanks’, my eyes were drawn to the label first, then the genre description of ‘death/black metal’, followed by a ‘FFO’ statement including Dark Angel, Dissection, and Necrophobic among others. It is therefore on this basis that I decided to take a punt. After all, it’s the personality that counts, right?
As it turns out, Necrowretch were worth my attention. ‘Swords Of Dajjal’ is the French quartet’s fifth full-length over the course of a fifteen-year career to date and, despite the cover art and ludicrously-named band members, I must admit to being just a little bit impressed. Over the years, what started out as a one-man project at the hands of guitarist/vocalist Vlad, Necrowretch has grown into a studio trio including drummer N. Destroyer and lead guitarist W. Cadaver, with R. Cadaver completing a quartet on bass having initially stood in for for live performances. Together, they’ve created something rather enjoyable to the ears in the form of ‘Swords Of Dajjal’.
Over the course of eight individual tracks and a run-time of just over 35 minutes, we’re treated to a listening experience that, for once, generally lives up to the press release billing. You can definitely hear the black and death metal influences blended together, and you can also certainly pick out the Dissection and Necrophobic influences within the band’s sound. But the most appealing element for me is the way that the music manages to sound as raw and aggressive as it does whilst also being as catchy as hell at various points throughout. Apparently, the songs were written on twelve-string guitars with the thought process being that “if it sounds good and catchy that way, it’d be even better with distortion.” You can’t really argue with that either, based on the final product that blasts from the speakers.
And blast it does. There’s no quiet or atmospheric intro to settle us in to ‘Swords Of Dajjal’; instead, the opening to ‘Ksar Al-Kufar’ is a seriously catchy guitar riff that soon gives way to a classic black metal staccato riff, ably assisted in the bombast by some double-pedal drumming and a bass sound that isn’t shy in coming forward through the aggression with a palatable rumble. Heavy and aggressive it sure is, but there’s a majestic melodic quality to the track that I really enjoy, not to mention slower passages, where the lead guitar of W. Cadaver is allowed to boss proceedings. The sounds of crackling thunder can be heard, too, signalling another onslaught, albeit drenched in dark melody as it is.
Essentially, the tone is set and by-and-large, the remainder of ‘Swords Of Dajjal’ follows suit. If you like the opening salvo, you’ll pretty much enjoy the rest of the album. That’s not to say that there isn’t some variety to be heard, because there is. ‘The Fifth Door’ for example, starts off at breakneck speed but soon displays a much more theatrical side to the band’s music. Slower melodic passages break the intense tumult, great thunderous drum rolls echo through the speakers, acoustic guitars enter the fray and the whole second half of the song is an exercise in building dark, menacing tension in a way that’s simple, but very effective.
‘Dii Mauri’ on the other hand, explores a slower, more measured tempo overall, driven by commanding drumming at its core. In the closing stages, a wailing guitar haunts the track but brings with it an irresistible air of malevolence. It’s here that you realise just what a good production ‘Swords Of Dajjal’ has. The band, alongside engineer Francis Caste have managed to create a sound that’s both raw and dangerous, whilst losing none of the power or clarity along the way.
The high point of the album for me materialises within the title track, around the halfway mark as a song that had been uncompromising and unrelenting suddenly slows and around some chunky death metal notes, the lead guitars dance at a fair lick to create a much more hauntingly melodic passage, one that I can’t help but smile along to, even when the track increases to warp speed towards its death.
If I was to criticise anything else about this record, it’d be that maybe, just maybe, the second half falls a little short of the first, what with ‘Vae Victis’ lacking just a touch in the memorability stakes, despite a mid-tempo stomp at its core, and ‘Daeva’ that’s a take-it-or-leave-it instrumental interlude that has a swagger to it, but doesn’t really add a great deal to proceedings.
But, this minor quibble aside, you can’t deny the ability of Necrowretch, or their rather enjoyable brand of blackened death metal. ‘Swords Of Dajjal’ is an album that I tried on a whim and have not looked back. I like a quality slab of black/death metal, especially if it doesn’t shun melody and that’s exactly what we get here. As such, this record has done plenty enough to ensure that I will go back into the Frenchmen’s back catalogue to see what it is that I have missed up to this point. ‘Swords Of Dajjal’ is very good, and comes with a genuine recommendation.
The Score of Much Metal: 82%
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