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Los Angeles-based neo-classical extreme metal mavens Exmortus return on new album, Necrophony. Four years in the making, the group’s sixth album offers nothing but savage rebirth and fierce renewal. Necrophony marks a significant turning point—one foretold by the Legions of the Undead EP in 2019—for the Angelenos. Not only have they emerged from the throes of the pandemic stronger, faster and crazier, they’ve signed on to global metal powerhouse Nuclear Blast. The passion and fury of lead-off single “Oathbreaker” is merely the tip of Exmortus’ darkest tower. Follow-on singles like the powerful “Mind of Metal” and “Storm of Strings,” a whistle-stop, no-joke cover of Greek-American composer Yanni interpreting Vivaldi’s “Summer,” add greatly to Exmortus’ masterly oeuvre.
“We wanted everything on this album to be a fresh take of what we envisioned Exmortus to be,” says guitarist/vocalist Jadran ‘Conan’ Gonzalez. “We had a lot of time to reflect on that during the isolation period of the pandemic, and so, this new material is a sort of rebirth of our approach to writing and performing our music.”
Exmortus was founded in 2002. The group issued a bevy of well-received demos and EPs that culminated in debut In Hatred’s Flame in 2008. Since then, Gonzalez—now flanked by specialists Phillip Nuñez (bass), Chase Becker (guitars), and Adrian Aguilar (drums)—has gone on to release four more fan-favorite full-lengths. Exmortus have toured with Amon Amarth, Obituary, Death Angel, and more, playing gigs in North America and Europe. The group’s highlights have also included a stint with thrash legends Exodus at industry lighthouse event NAMM and a coveted spot on the 70000 Tons of Metal cruise. Necrophony, a portmanteau of “necro” and “phony” (or “dead sounds”), is Exmortus bigger, badder and wickedly restless.
“We felt so uninspired and hopeless (as everyone else had) that the few [song] ideas we had pre-pandemic were left incomplete,” Gonzalez says. “But after much introspection and group reassurance we pushed on. With a sort of enlightened view and understanding of ourselves, we completed Necrophony with such passion and fervor that we’ve never been prouder of our work than with this album.”
Written from a fresh slate, Necrophony’s origins can be traced to preludes “Masquerade,” “Overture,” and the intro to “Children of the Night.” Once Exmortus had the feel down, they settled on expanding on the motifs by forging Viennese sophistication with metal might. Careful observers will hear Exmortus’ clever use of the album’s musical theme throughout its 12-song range. That includes “Darkest of Knights” and the aforementioned “Children of the Night,” as well as Necrophony’s shorter bursts of bravado in “Oathbreaker” and “Beyond the Grave.” The most important attributes were, however, vibe and Exmortus’ careful crafting of their next-gen sonic fingerprint.
“We never really aim to write ‘long songs,” says Gonzalez of ‘Darkest of Knights’ and ‘Children of the Night,’ Necrophony’s two epics. “They sort of come out like that. These songs in particular just had more parts in them that we felt were necessary to be played within the same movement. Maybe the amount of lyrics written affected the length of these songs. It gives more room for more ‘story-telling.’ ‘Darkest of Knights’ is about a tragic hero committing atrocities even though he truly believed he was fighting for the right cause. ‘Children of the Night’ is about a bite victim of vampire/werewolf turning to the other side and relishing in the newfound predatory rebirth.”
Whereas previous albums up through 2018’s The Sound of Steel have been predicated on heroic fantasy/sword & sorcery, Necrophony turns a decidedly darker page. Exmortus have gone from a Conan the Barbarian and Gladiator aesthetic to something blacker, more nefarious as illustrated by the eeriest and evilest Lovecraftian and Tolkien-esque tales. There’s even a classic horror thing happening. This is, of course, a reflection of our immediate world, and the darkness that’s engulfing everything in it.
“We always like to draw inspiration from movies, literature and video games,” Gonzalez says. “‘Mind of Metal’ is a Tolkien inspiration, ‘Children of the Night’ recalls Bram Stoker’s Dracula, ‘Darkest of Knights’ is inspired by Fromsoft’s Bloodborne on PS4, ‘Mask of Red Death’ is a tribute to Poe’s short story of similar name, ‘Beyond the Grave’ alludes to the events of the classic Evil Dead trilogy. The rest are more inspired by life, personal thoughts and feelings on the subjects of death, fear and perseverance.”
Exmortus invited Renaissance man Zack Ohren (Fallujah, Immolation) to return as engineer, producer, mixer and mastering ace on Necrophony. Certainly, the team that had cemented the group’s three previous albums into the annals of metaldom was going to work yet again. With Ohren at the helm, Exmortus holed up in Sharkbite Studios in Oakland, CA. Necrophony was fast-tracked in just under two weeks. The result is a clap of virtuosic metal sure to leave fans battered, bloodied, and hungry for more violent opulence.
“We were the most prepared we’ve ever been for this recording session,” says Gonzalez. “The only things that were unfinished walking in the first day of recording were some solos and some lyrics. We like to keep some of the solos on the improv sounding side to give a sort of a live feel. As for last minute lyrics, I tend to wait for the overall sounds we record to further delve into the atmosphere of the album to finish those final thoughts in the lyrics.”
With “Oathbreaker,” “Mind of Metal” and “Storm of Strings” ringing darkened ears Exmortus’ paroxysmal ascent to extreme metal’s upper echelons is guaranteed with Necrophony. Bow in reverence to the high-flying, six-stringed dynasts now.