Necrophagia: 'Deathtrip 69' – CD Review

One of the first (and finest) purveyors of horror-themed death metal, Necrophagia have been slashing their way through extreme music history since the early '80s, turning out atmospheric and totally brutal homages to the greatest and goriest in horror cinema. Many pretenders to the throne have come along since, but few have the staying power of this Ohio-based metal quintet (even after a few breaks and breakups), and I've sung their hails on this site many times. After a painfully long wait, the band's latest collection of terrifying tunes has finally arrived to shake your speakers and boil your brains. Read on for a full review of their sixth full-length album, Deathtrip 69...

When it comes to songwriting, arrangements and production values, these cats have evolved a bit since their gritty, chaotic 1987 debut Season of the Dead, but they've never lost touch with the elements that make them great. They've also stayed faithful to their themes and concepts, basing their songs on well-known horror classics and obscure grindhouse gems, as well as their own original characters and stories. Since the beginning, they've paid tribute to horror icons like Lucio Fulci, Jose Mojica Marins (aka "Coffin Joe"), Jörg Buttgereit (Nekromantik), Japan's notorious Guinea Pig series, Italian cannibal movies, and the Evil Dead trilogy. For their splatterific music videos, the band has collaborated with Marins and many other horror legends, including the late Paul Naschy and the gonzo-gore crew at Toe Tag Productions.

Hatchet-wielding vocalist Frank "Killjoy" Pucci has been the creative heart of the band since the beginning, but many other high-profile musicians have cycled through the Necrophagia lineup over the years – including Pantera's Phil Anselmo, Daemonia drummer Tita Tanni, Gorelord's Frediablo and keyboardist Mirai Kawashima from Japanese extreme-metallers Sigh. With Deathtrip 69, Slipknot guitarist Mick Thompson and Amen vocalist Casey Chaos can add their names to that prestigious guest list.

All the classic Necrophagia elements return in this record, to the point where it hardly seems like six years have passed since their previous effort Harvest Ritual Vol 1: Penance, but there's a touch of experimentation in their songwriting and arrangements this time around that breathes some new life into the formula. Plus the production is top-notch – something which fans of their underground days may have a problem with, but I personally think it's a plus. And rest assured, their chugging guitars, old-school keyboards, death-machine beats, horror-movie samples and ghoulish lyrics haven't changed a bit.

You'll know what I'm talking about when the peals of thunder, recorded incantations and opening feedback of "Naturan Demonto" burrows into your ears: the final installment of their long-running tribute to the Evil Dead series, this epic track completes the cycle that began with "Ancient Slumber" and "It Lives in the Woods." The speed and crunch of the mighty riffs – a bit more cutting this time – underscores Killjoy's alternating demon rasps and ogre growls, signaling the band's triumphant return. The werewolf anthem "Beast With Feral Claws" was the album's first single (actually released more than a year ago) and draws its power from a well-synched guitar/vocal pattern and tasty soundbites from The Howling.

Legendary horror vamp Barbara Steele is celebrated in the gothic-flavored "Tomb With A View," which captures her seductive performance in Mario Bava's 1960 classic Black Sunday with bells, piano, dissonant strings and acoustic guitar, which set the mood before the mighty dirge riffs begin, peaking with group vocal incantations of "Rise up/Sleep no more." The crushing and epic cut "Suffering Comes In Sixes" weaves one of the band's original tales, which Killjoy calls "an original story about me completing a cycle of murder, with [its] inspiration being two very special girls who die horribly."

The band then turns its demonic gaze to the giallo genre for the ominous neo-folk of "A Funeral For Solange," which is one of their most atmospheric tracks, crafting a feeling of dread from acoustic guitar, simple synth strings and deep, eerie ghost-voices (male and female, spoken and melodic). The massively aggressive "Kyra" is a mosh-friendly tribute to the original Living Dead Girl, Kyra Schon – who any true horror fan knows as the trowel-wielding young ghoul from Night of the Living Dead – with a mix of punk & death vocals and a creepy but very familiar soundbite.

As you can probably tell from the title, "Bleeding Eyes Of The Eternally Damned" is a direct tribute to Lucio Fulci's City of the Living Dead... even if you didn't know that going in, you'll soon pick it up from the lengthy bites sprinkled throughout the song (including the movie's pre-title scream), the chanting of "Enoch" in the chorus, references to "regurgitated guts" and a cool recreation of the film's main theme... although the latter rambles on too long and could have used a fadeout. "Trick R Treat (The Last Halloween)" is an ominous homage to Michael Dougherty's acclaimed Halloween anthology, especially when the swirling double-riffs and melodic chanting kick in about midway through.

The title track is the first of two songs based on the real-life escapades of Charles Manson and his deranged followers, beginning with an excerpt from crazy Charlie himself before launching into Killjoy's most frightening vocal attack, broken up by a dirge-like acoustic midsection featuring recitations of Manson's deranged ramblings. The second piece, "Death Valley 69," is a complete stylistic departure, performed like a campfire song (complete with harmonica solo), but with grisly lyrics ("When we creepy-crawl the house/And we get our message out/Casa La Bianca drips with blood").

If you know this band at all, you know all of these themes are totally familiar Necrophagia turf, and there's no need to re-invent the wheel when it comes to style and subject matter. With that in mind, Deathtrip 69 isn't necessarily a huge jump forward, but it does show that there's still a lot of horrific source material out there for them to explore... and as long as horror cinema thrives (and trust me, it will), I'm betting they'll continue to find fresh meat for this musical beast in the years to come. Just don't make us wait so damn long next time!