As we near the thirty-fourth calendar year since Netherlands death metal staple Asphyx formed, the relatively straightforward nature of their tenth full-length album ‘Necroceros’ reminds us for the fourth time this decade that their continued existence, sans any founding members, is largely in service to the nostalgic zeitgeist upheld by enduring fandom of their 1991 debut album ‘The Rack’. Before that thought begins to sink into a cynical or derogatory tone I’d suggest it is in fact testament to the strength of that album, which has long been an exemplar piece of Dutch death metal character: Thrashing brutality and heaviest doom. With that said we do some injustice to the legacy of the band’s name and the various main songwriters who’ve shaped their larger discography by focusing too intently on their debut. The “true” debut from the band (‘Embrace the Death‘, 1996), had it not been scrapped after the exit of Tony Brookhuis (Infidel Reich) nearby its intended ~1990 release, would be revered as a major classic in the death/doom metal sub-genre — This has long been a bloody thorn in my neck as a longtime fan of the band. The constant changing of the guard among members within Asphyx has always been a double-edged sword, though, since every dashed bit of potential energy has been balanced away via some profoundly heavy genre entry that sustains their strong old school death metal ideals. Of course I could hash out the merits of the superior development of the primarily Bob Bagchus and Eric Daniels writ version of the band throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s beyond 1992’s ‘Last One on Earth‘ but the nostalgic fandom yet sees the face of Asphyx as a Martin van Drunen specific project instead of crediting the importance of various other frontmen otherwise, my personal favorite being the Obituary-esque fire of Wannes Gubbels‘ (Pentacle) contributions to ‘On the Wings of Inferno’ and the first Soulburn record, which was in the same death/doom style. I set this rant up front not for the sake of maligning any configuration of the band (at all) but, to shake a finger at fans who’d go directly from ‘The Rack’ to 2009’s ‘Death… The Brutal Way‘ (2009) and effectively side-step the rich discography on offer. There is little sense in perpetuating the nepotism of a legacy without celebrating its -full- history.
The Asphyx of today, and since reforming 2007, has proven the most stable version of the band in terms of style and touring capacity. No doubt various fellowes have lent their strength to the revived project but it becomes clear the consistent ethic of guitarist Paul Baayens (Thanatos, ex-Cremation) who’d brought similar tendencies to the bolt-hurling Hail of Bullets in tandem, has been the major fuel of their “rebirth for the fans” for several years. Fealty to this particular artist’s body of work is my own major motivation to check in with Asphyx intermittently this last decade and though I’ve not always been impressed along the way, ‘Necroceros’ is perhaps the best balance of traits that speak specifically to the whole “Asphyx” reality er, their discography sans some of the core Celtic Frost-ed /early Dutch death metal spirit which is perhaps more preserved in ex-guitarist Eric Daniels‘ Soulburn. If you’d like to suss out the line-up changes and figure where all of these trait stem from, the band have done a fine job of making their own infographic detailing the long history of their line-up situation which naturally speaks to the consistency of today. The shrieking and roaring of our fiberglass throated van Drunen does naturally speak to the most noted face of Asphyx and as we jump right into “The Sole Cure is Death” and I cannot help but marvel at the feeling they’ve captured here as a slight tinge of Bolt Thrower meets the thrashing pelt of ‘The Rack’ on this first salvo wheeling in and out of a doomed refrain and scrambling forth atop lyrics that paint the world into a sinfully fucked Sodom and Gomorrah suggesting the cure for deviants, pedophiles and murderers is simply a bullet to the brain. Compressed to Hell as the provided stream of the album is, this first render of an post-2000 Asphyx album without Dan Swanö‘s expertise might be a bit flat without his propulsive edge applied but this will only speak to the original thrashed-out guts of their early records. If making the comparison for yourself make sure you’ve found the original 1991 & 1992 releases, not the oddly bass-boosted remasters.
“Mount Skull” brings our first full chug of leaden death/doom, a prerequisite at this point and perhaps the first generally average composition of the full listen with “Knights Templar Stand” acting as its similarly dry energetic counterpart. If these two pieces weren’t so brutally average I’m not sure the major standout moment of the full listen, “Three Years of Famine”, would’ve hit quite as effectively as it had. Does this high point match the weight of a modern equivalent such as Solothus or Temple of Void? Not necessarily but it is certainly one of the best pieces this current line-up has managed since 2009. We’re ready for Side B and find ourselves hit immediately with a bit of napalm as “Botox Implosion” brings a fast-thrashing hit to break up the “epic” tension of the prior piece in true Asphyx style and though I felt the lyrics were a bit silly at first I couldn’t help but appreciate their assault upon false and excessive bullshit. The song is well placed in terms of balancing the peak of the record, providing a lively single, and punching up a bit of personality within the very dry statement-void landscape of extreme metal today. “The Nameless Elite” again reaches back to those early van Drunen sung Asphyx records while filling in the gaps with what I’d consider ‘…For Victory’-esque riffs in keeping with the modus of the band since 2007. You’ve gotten the idea if you are an existing fan of the band, this one holds up without entirely standing out or trying anything too outrageously different. If you’ve little context for what makes Asphyx such an enduring name this isn’t a bad place to start though the straightforward heavy metal song structures may not be as thrilling when compared to modern death/doom metal’s broad spectrum scanning acts. Keeping it simple and heavy is yet difficult to argue away or to minimize since the band yet sustains their revived legacy with a handful of inspired and heavily repeatable moments.
Taking the time to listen to each of Asphyx‘ ten albums with great detail over the course of the last two weeks had been vexing until I’d reached ‘Death… The Brutal Way’ and beyond, not for the sake of hindsight allowing me to reinforce my own (strong) appreciation for their place in the pantheon of Netherlands old school death metal forces but it’d been vexing to consider what certain identity had made them a popular name to begin with. Consistency has done great things for the quality of their work yet it comes with the admission that the constantly shifting sands of their past discography had made their legacy more interesting. So, whether I consider their formative years in the 80’s, their ever-morphing face throughout the 90’s or their steadfast tank-like thunder throughout the 2010’s the context of comparative legacy is only important when considering the minutiae of iteration on recent releases. With this in mind, ‘Necroceros’ is the finest balanced set of songs since their inspired return in 2009 despite a few relatively average pieces within the running order, those of which will likely pique the ears of folks pining for Hail of Bullets style movements. All things considered and without any particular disappointment in hand: It is a fine record but perhaps not an amazing one. Also, I have to say this is the best album art from the band’s long relationship with Axel Hermann to date, even usurping the classic ‘Last One on Earth’ imagery for my own taste. A solid record with a few major songs deserving of a moderately high recommendation.
|LABEL(S):||Century Media Records|
|RELEASE DATE:||January 22nd, 2021|
|BUY:||Century Media Website|
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