In The Twilight Grey

Century Media
rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Grace of the Past
02. Clavis Inferni
03. As Stars Collide
04. Stormcrow
05. Shadows of the Brightest Night
06. Mirrors of a Thousand Lakes
07. Cast in Stone
08. Nordanvind
09. In the Twilight Grey
10. Ascension (Episode Four)

Admirers of blackened death metal can always rely upon NECROPHOBIC to keep things simple. Ever since the release of the instantly iconic "The Nocturnal Silence" (1993),  these stalwarts of the underground have sustained their uncompromising vision of extremity, rarely deviating from the blueprint that they helped to create. At the same time, NECROPHOBIC have proved themselves more substantial and enduring than many of their peers. A big, destructive and profoundly blackened metal band with a mercilessly direct songwriting approach, they have become one of the biggest names in the scene, both through seminal albums like "The Third Antichrist" (1999) and "Hrimthursum" (2006),  and via the intensity of their live shows. Proof that meat and potatoes can be turned into something delicious, with the guiding hand of Satan, NECROPHOBIC are in many ways the definitive blackened death metal army.

In recent times, the Swedish/Dutch crew have played to their strengths. Both "Mark Of The Necrogram" (2018) and "Dawn of The Damned" (2020) were big-sounding and authoritative metal records, as guitarist and chief songwriter Sebastian Ramstedt further refined the band's sound, while stoically resisting the urge to experiment or branch out into anything other than feverish, black-hearted brutality. For their tenth album, NECROPHOBIC have done nothing as radical as change direction, but the overall atmosphere of "In The Twilight Grey" is quite distinct from that of its two direct predecessors. As hazily ill-defined as its title suggests, this is a collection of barbaric hymns to existential disquiet, realized with the band's usual brutish flair, but generously smeared with real world melancholy.

The opening "Grace of the Past" may give the impression that this is an exercise in business as usual, and to a great extent it is, but the insidious atmosphere begins to spread as the open riff weaves its path forward. NECROPHOBIC fans have nothing to fear, of course: the band's trademark, frenzied bombast is omnipresent, and drummer Joakim Sterner is still hitting his drums with maniacal strength. But surrounding the expected assaults, the eeriness that always lurks in the background on albums like these has grown into something more three-dimensional. "Clavis Inferi" is a straight-ahead black metal banger in some respects, but Ramstedt's shrewd and subtle arrangements give it a portentous aura, as if something wicked has arrived and refuses to be banished. This is even more evident on "As Stars Collide", wherein the NECROPHOBIC formula opens up to fully embrace melody, while writhing around in a tight maze of claustrophobic riffing. "Stormcrow" is even more startling: a heads-down ripper with some gloriously dissonant riffs, it twists its more traditional songwriting framework into a new, fervently creepy new shape, with vocalist Anders Strokirk spitting the chorus with rare vitriol and negotiating more arcane passages with an evil preacher's sense of timing. Elsewhere, otherwise unfussy material is stretched into abominable new forms. Epics like "Shadows of The Brightest Night" and "Nordanvind" are as extravagantly punishing as anything in NECROPHOBIC's past, but also immersive in a way that this band have rarely attempted before. The title track is the best of them: a visceral, grimly dramatic eight-minutes, it slashes and stabs with the usual viciousness, before winding malevolently towards a triumphant, widescreen climax.

By letting natural forces dictate their thinking, NECROPHOBIC have been able to nurture some evolutionary change within their voluntarily limited sound. "In The Twilight Grey" will still conjure demons and summon darkness, but within a world of deep textures and deeper thoughts. Their best album since the debut, surprisingly enough.

Author: Dom Lawson
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