THRASH(ING) CLASSIC(AL): From the off, way back in 2002, Los Angeles’ Exmortus has never been shy about introducing neoclassical additions to its thrash and melodic death metal roots. Back when the mid-00s thrash revival was full-on and you couldn’t take three steps anywhere without tripping on greasy pizza boxes, discarded cans of malt liquor, dudes in patched up Canadian tuxedos. and limited edition Municipal Waste cassettes, Exmortus were the outliers. They appeared to be as equally affected by LA warehouse shows, the second-tier of 80s thrash, and Gothenburg death metal as they were by classical concerts in ornate halls, Shrapnel Records re-issues, and Yngwie Malmsteen unleashing his fucking fury, even if, at one time, they had a gentleman affectionately named Taco Bell Dave playing drums for them.
Two decades, four record labels, and six albums down the pipe and guitarist/vocalist/lone original member/only person who knows where to find Taco Bell Dave, Jadran “Conan” Gonzalez is still leading the charge of the tech brigade. For quick and easy reference points, Exmortus occupies camps adjacent to the likes of Arsis, Revocation, early Megadeth, Children of Bodom, Havok, Warbringer, and Skeletonwitch. Though the band is more apt to explore and exploit their interest and ties to classical music with interludes, a previous delve into “Midnight Sonata” and now “Storm of Strings,” which is a cover of Yanni’s “Summer,” which in turn is a take on Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” concertos.
There’s no doubt Gonzalez, bassist Phillip Nuñez, guitarist Chase Becker, and drummer Adrian Aguilar can shred circles around you, me, and the fence post. As such, Necrophony is the sort of album you can present to a curmudgeonly conservatory instructor and not have the conversation devolve into a heated debate about heavy metal being a bunch of senseless noise, as the album’s near-hour running time is bursting with recognizable snippets of standards, loads and loads of baroque epic-ness, and the sort of theoretically perfect legato runs that are hallmarks of the tie and tails set.
Opener “Masquerade,” “Test of Time,” “Overture,” and the Yanni cover are blatantly coursing with the combined familiarity of the disparate genres. “Mask of Red Death,” “Oathbreaker,” and “Children of the Night” are where they ease up on the pomp and circumstance—until it comes time to rip a lead, that is—to display some balls to the wall grit.
The biggest issue dragging this collection of 13 tracks is that, despite how much talent is in them their limbs, and how much musical acumen and maturity is put on display, and despite how fun it must be to be a fret watcher at an Exmortus show, Necrophony still clocks in at an excruciating 54 minutes. Which is made all the more agonizing by the fact the band makes its point (and makes it well) in under half an hour. The quasi-brilliant “Children of the Night” with its anthemic chorus chant and on-point riffing could have had double the impact at half the length. Similarly, “Darkest of Knights” wears out its own welcome at an unnecessary eight-plus minutes that sounds like eight-plus minutes. But hey, some folks are all about quantity over quality. Though when both patience and quality are tested by that virtue, how much of CD or double LP package being filled become less concerning. ~ Kevin Stewart-Panko