Sunday, October 28, 2018

Necrophagia - The Divine Art of Torture (2003)

Say what you want about whether Necrophagia was ever putting out top of the line albums for the genre, but one thing I can assure the viewer is that of all death metal gurus, Killjoy was one most committed to the actual ugliness of the medium. Whether that's a virtue or a vice is up to everyone to decide for him or herself; this was never a band that was going to release polished, wanky tech death albums, or melodic death metal, but instead appeal to the most primitive and then plaster on the usual suspect horror tropes like samples, narrative and synthesizers which fulfill the themes of gore, giallo, and cinematic camp. The Divine Art of Torture, the band's fourth full-length, is certainly one of its most ugly creations, if lacking stylistic refinement or many truly memorable tracks.

Does that matter here? Yes and no...there's a primal hideousness coursing through the ten cuts of this album which is certainly engaging and abusive. Like a lot of bands out of the NOLA scene, or Cali's cult crushers Autopsy, there's quite a chunk of punk or hardcore influence, only rather than cultivate a crust, sludge or doom center, Necrophagia channels it directly into a raw, pummeling death metal. Riffs are meaty and atrocious, with a raw, thrashy and crunchy tone to the rhythm guitars that does get a bit noisy in the recording. They do delve into some slower, groovier, doomy riffs at points, and there are also some really minimalist, bottom of the barrel sorts groove/nu metal riffs that they clog up some of the choruses with. Really, though, while a lot of the riffs can feel creatively bankrupt or flat-out predictable, they do suffice at least as a basis from which to launch the keyboards or other effects, not to mention they are angry, violent and abusive enough to compete with Killjoy's savage, tortured barking, forever the hallmark of this project.

It's kind of an odd sound because apart from maybe something like Autopsy, Impetigo, Slaughter or Sarcofago, it doesn't really wedge itself easy into other classifications of death metal. It's 'brutal' by its own standards, but the riffs feel more based in thrash and punk than the influence of the Swedish, British or Florida scenes. You don't get the feeling that there are any 'rules' in motion, or any real ambition, other than pounding the guitars into your skull like nails. The basslines and drums provided by the international rhythm section of Iscariah and Titta Tani, are very barebones and rock & roll in prowess, which also stands out like a sore thumb among the more technical and brutal inclined acts, but then again serving the style on this disc pretty well. Unlike a lot of the faceless hordes of bands that fit snugly into some category, when I hear a Necrophagia tune in a radio lineup I'm going to be pretty sure of who it is, and that's not a bad position to be in.

Mirai of the godlike Sigh provides the keyboards on the album, and he retains his penchant for choosing lines and tones that sound like they're somewhere between carnival music, giallo scores and prototypical New Age. I did not quite like how they were mixed here, feeling a bit too acidic or grating especially when coupled up with that brash guitar tone. Occasionally, as in "Rue Morgue Disciple", the band will break away into some simpler chugging and melodic guitars, where Mirai offers a more fulfilling, symphonic background, and these were some of my favorite parts. Overall though, with all the special effects coming and going through the music, Killjoy's lung puncturing roars, and anything else going on, I do feel like it can all devolve into quite a clamor, and isn't really mixed very well, a flaw that I think could prove a deal breaker for many listeners.

A horror guru like few others, Killjoy picks some interesting subjects here, like a tune about the Parasite Eve video game, or the "Flowers of Flesh and Blood" episode of the Guinea Pig torture-porn series. Not the sort of stuff you expect on your average horror-inspired death metal album which will mine the same old slashers from the 80s, and that much is appreciated here. The Divine Art of Torture is certainly one of the Necrophagia records with the most potential and cool concepts, but the lack of really sticky riff passages, as well as the production hold it back a step.

Horror-Meter: Seven out of ten phobia-driven heart seizures.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

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