Necromantia are one of the more curious and immediately striking bands in black metal. The Hellenic BM scene was, outside of a couple outliers in the Scandinavian countries (eg Dissection, Immortal etc), the most traditional heavy metal of the bunch – after all, it is why RiG has a big ‘ol primer on the scene. Of the big bands, Necromantia is perhaps the most musically “traditional metal” of the bunch, while also being musically one of the more radical bands of their brood.
The general foundation of the band is that they largely eschewed the six-string guitar for the most part, in favor of a style that’s driven more by 4- and 8-string basses than the conventional rock & roll/heavy metal setup. There is some guitar stuff, but they’re mainly present for leads, and the actual rhythmic and melodic heft is otherwise left to both basses. Even if both basses are distorted enough to sound like guitars, it gives Necromantia’s approach a harmonic sensibility that’s very different from what you’d be able to get from a “normal” guitar playing these riffs. It has a lot more in common with what Joey Demaio was doing in Manowar, over a decade before, than what the rest of the second wave was doing around this era. It’s hard not listening to a song like, say, “Black Mirror”, and then turning around and hearing something like “Secret of Steel” and finding the similarity entirely accidental. That’s even before you get into the various Manowar covers they’ve done over the years.
Scarlet Evil Witching Black is a symphonic black metal album, albeit calling it one in the vein of say, Emperor is a little misleading. It has keyboards and fundamentally exalts Wagnerian bombast – even sampling him in the second “Pretender to the Throne” track – but the vast majority of that exists primarily to serve as a melodic counterpoint with the basses and to flesh out the mood & texture. Scarlet Evil Witching Black is, fundamentally, driven by a bedrock of earthy, bludgeoning riffs and constantly churning bass lines that fundamentally dictate and drive the songs forward. This is hardly an example of a band where the keyboards are the dominant and/or the only worthwhile leading melodic voice – though I’ll cop to enjoying certain black metal bands who do exactly that; I’m just trying to illustrate the difference here – but rather one who uses them when necessary and is otherwise a very riff-driven album. And they’re superb riffs, really – the band captured their latent Manowar influence, as noted above, and transposed it into burning, ferocious black metal. The riffing in songs like the opener, the aforementioned “Black Mirror”, or the strangely hushed, understated vibe that “Scarlet Evil Witching Dreams” goes for after its initial solo that’s quite alluring – they are, first and foremost, what drives the songs forward and gives them their mood and identity.
Necromantia had a real gift for arrangement and structure, though. There’s a lot of different things at play constantly throughout the record, yet it never really devolves into riff salad or empty bombast that goes nowhere. Rather, the band’s songwriting prowess is such that the songs are always going somewhere interesting or doing something evocative. There’s a definite point they’re always leading to, even if the route taken to get there is somewhat obscure and doesn’t reveal how til you’ve spent a while with them. But there’s a strange sort of flow between how the riffs and melodies move between each other, even if it’s sometimes very jagged with their occasional love of an odd change up here and there. Regardless, it’s genuinely adventurous, bombastic music that refuses to be pigeon-holed into any one category, and every song has a firm identity and sense of place that it depicts. Nothing here is particularly samey, and none of the songs ever really drag or lose momentum throughout, even during its most blistering paces or its most deliberate, understated moments. Its feel for depicting the peaks and valleys movement is terrific throughout.
Y’know, it’s rather difficult picking what the best album of the Hellenic scene is. There were a lot of very good bands that emerged from the great country of Greece during that era. But if you made me have to pick just one album of the lot, it’d be this one. Whether you tend to be the kind of person who enjoys a band for their more abstract/oblique qualities, or for the simple pleasures of bludgeoning, physically heavy riffage… Necromantia possess both in spades and more. They were a band who were bold, inventive when it counted, and showcase a type of vision and purpose you don’t hear as often as one would like. But those qualities are a lot rarer than one would like to admit; thankfully, they are ones in which the band had in spades. Stunning.
Favorite track: Scarlet Evil Witching Dreams
Album rating: 94/100