Back in the days before heavy, extreme metal subdivided itself into a million different ugly niches, when Hellhammer and Celtic Frost and Dark Angel were the badge of choice for discerning noise junkies, and it was possible to invoke equally black metal and death metal and thrash metal because it was all heavy fucking metal, a quartet of distortion worshipers from Sweden dubbed Necrophobic set about flailing up a witch’s brew of heavily downtuned proto-black metal unholiness. Necrophobic would furrow similar paths to the likes of Dismember, Incantation, Hellhammer, Darkthrone, Deicide, and Morbid Angel but with a darker, more unpredictable verve.
As with many bands of their ilk, often the initial spark of inspiration burned the brightest, and to that end Regain Records has compiled Necrophobic’s two early demos — tape-trading grails naturally — Slow Asphyxiation and Unholy Prophecies — and their first EP, 1993’s The Call. The shit’s aged very well, I’m happy to say, still sounding fresh and utterly cult even fifteen years later. What set Necrophobic apart from many of their blackened death peers (were there really that many?) was an unshakable notion that less was more. They were content to hold back on the hyperspeed blastbeat insanity, realizing that a sense of creeping, inexorable dread could be just as intense. Thrash metal textures are employed, warped, and cracked through primitive distortion pedals, for a dirgier atmosphere, the sound is dry and echoey, leaving plenty of negative space between riffs, giving the songs an almost drone texture. And then this fucking crazy-ass amateurish broken-crystal solo just spirals through? I love it. And the vocals are total early Tom G Warrior guttural grunt.
The drums on the Slow Asphyxiation demo sound like whip cracks and the guitars are just ridiculously distorted and sludgy, with some flawless riffs throwing elbows left and right. Unholy Prophecies, a little grungier and more lo-fi, shares some sonic characteristics with Obituary’s first album, all sharp razor edges submerged in a viscous mud. With The Call, Necrophobic were on their way to the big time (well, as close as they would get). The sound is brighter and more defined, with the listener actually able to discern some high end, and there is some fucking scary-ass vocal distortion going on here, the guitars are drenched in spacey echo and reverb, and the drummer is flailing about madly, filling every available space with double bass fills. It sounds the biggest, and it’s the most doctrinaire death metal, but the demos, I’ve gotta say, I prefer them. If you want to hear who inspired your heroes, the discerning metal scholar needs to pick this fucker up.