Review

Review

Antropomorphia: 'Evangelium Nekromantia' – CD Review [NSFW]

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Being a fan of European metal of all stripes, I actually hadn't heard much output from Holland's death metal unit Antropomorphia until recently, despite the band having maintained a solid presence in one form or another for around a quarter century, evolving from a more Slayer-inspired sound into the blackened death mode they employ today. While they developed a strong underground following throughout the '90s (originally under a different lineup and the name Dethroned Empire), it wasn't until the release of their 1998 album Pure that the wider metal community began to take notice, although after that the founders apparently took an extended hiatus. I first heard their work through last year's Necromantic Love Songs, a compilation of the band's demos, EPs, and various obscurities; it's extreme, uncompromising and violent stuff, tapping into underground gore/death metal and more recent blackened styles, now with a more overt occult theme (as you can probably figure out from the naughty album cover below).

 
 
The new studio offering Evangelium Nekromantia is the band's highest-profile work to date, and their first to be released internationally on Metal Blade records, which puts them in pretty damn prestigious company. Their core sound, served up by guitarist/vocalist Ferry Damen, bassist Marc van Stiphout and Marco Stubbe on drums, is based on simple but beefy riffs which are then double-timed to accelerate the heart rate, though they ease off on the expected double-kick death blastbeats, which was actually a welcome change... although their stronger emphasis on steady gut-punching rhythm comes at the cost of melodic variety. No fancy lead work here, folks: this is all about ye olde mighty riffs.
 
While Damen's vocals, which range from ogre grunts to banshee wails, are fearsome (made even more so by some aggressive multi-tracking effects), they're occasionally overwhelmed by the rhythmic storm, but there's a consistent feeling of dread and creeping chaos that is the clear mark of a rock-solid death band... not to mention a lyrical concept torn straight from the old-school black metal handbook, described by the band as a study of “nekrophilae, murder, necromancy, and necrolesbian lust,” which probably makes for some damn memorable keyword searches. The lyrics often get lost in all the blood and thunder (a common complaint I have about old-school death metal production) but their demonic enthusiasm is infectious.
 
A spoken-word intro track kicks off the album, which is divided into three segments in the style of an inverted liturgical ceremony; we open our hymnals to "Nekrophilian Mass,” a steadily building groove that reaches a fever pitch that continues the momentum into "The Mourned and the Macabre,” as the trio begin to exercise their chaos-making skills with frantic tempo change-ups and criss-crossing vocals. Their mastery of the thunderous beat comes though strongest in cuts like "Debauchery in Putrefaction" and "Fleisch,” while "Anointment by Sin" pushes the production envelope a bit too much for my liking; it comes off as loud and dense, instead of just plain heavy. "Impure Desecration" is probably the most “blackened” track on the album, with the strongest emphasis on demonic vocals that will send chills up your spine. The album wraps with a haunting acoustic instrumental outro (a kind of post-mass processional, if you will), which serves up a rich and effective atmosphere and proves how well these cats could handle moodier, more gothic elements or adopt a Celtic Frost type of vibe.
 
While it's not the genre game-changer the band hopes it to be, Evangelium Nekromantia is still Antropomorphia's strongest and most confident entry from this current creative phase, and while some of their older thrash elements might have added some extra violence to the mix, they've chosen to put more emphasis on a darker, doomier and more thunderous sound, which stacks up fairly well against most big-name death metal contenders, and that itself is no small feat. A little more vocal clarity and inventive lead guitar textures could really stake out a nice piece of territory for this battle-hardened trio.
 
See them in action in the video for "Psuchagogia,” along with a sexy blood-guzzling sorceress...
 
 
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