(We’re late reviewing the very impressive debut album of Necrosavant, but DGR does his best to make up for the delay with this extensive review.)
Sometimes reviews start out as entirely different beasts from the ones that are eventually published. You close your eyes and start typing — in my case usually to discover that your fingers were off to the left by just one letter after about a paragraph — and the next thing you know your opening segment has spent more time talking about other projects that a band might be involved in than the release you were initially focused on. This review has one such lineage, starting out as one for In Mourning, before shifting to October Tide, before finally becoming a review for Necrosavant.
Believe it or not, there actually is a throughline for those three releases. The initially wild and wooly paragraph that opened up this monster would’ve taken you on a journey ’round the world before landing on why those three are tied together somewhat. Instead, it came down to the fact that although our site posted about the Necrosavant kickstarter way back when it launched, and I personally was on pins and needles hoping to see it succesful (based on a one-minute sample video of guest vocalist Tobias Netzell (In Mourning, Antarktis) delivering a monstrous vocal performance), we actually never got around to talking about the whole album after its end-of-February release through Kolony Records came and went. The time has come.
Aniara MMXIV is the debut release by Necrosavant, a one-man project headed by musician Jonas Martinsson. As a debut release, Aniara MMXIV is markedly ambitious, a clear labor of love that makes no concessions for comfort on the listeners end. Clocking in at forty-five minutes in the form of one song, Aniara MMXIV is a death-metal-with-a-blackened-tinge take on Aniara, a science fiction poem written by Swedish Novel laureate Harry Martinson, published in 1956. The Font of All Human Knowledge describes Aniara in this way:
The poem consists of 103 cantos and relates the tragedy of a space ship (4,750 m (15,580 ft) long and 891 m (2,923 ft) wide) which, originally bound for Mars with a cargo of colonists from the ravaged Earth, after an accident is ejected from the solar system and into an existential struggle.
…which seems almost tailor-made as the source material for a metal album. It has experienced something of a renaissance in music lately, and the Necrosavant take is one of a small handful to tackle its subjects. Forty-five minutes is a song length sure to provide some sticker-shock to someone glancing in from the outside; for a debut release, that means the Necrosavant project has set it self a very high bar to clear. Armed with ambitious subject matter and a very lofty goal, does the project succeed or does it doom itself to be lost in space as well?
Keeping a listener locked in for forty-five minutes is a heavy challenge for a band to set for itself. To accomplish that, Necrosavant has structured Aniara into a series of movements and accompanied himself with a series of guest vocalists. Whilst Jonas handles all of the instrumentation and a good chunk of the vocal work himself, he has also seen fit to pull from what should be a very familiar list of musicians to NCS readers — calling upon the likes of Alexander Högbom (October Tide, Volturyon, Centinex), Tobias Netzell (In Mourning, Thenighttimeproject, Antarktis — the recent new name for the band formerly known as Majalis), and Daniel Jansson (Ikhon, Antarktis). He has also enlisted Gabriella Åström to handle the narration in between each movement of the song.
This translates to Aniara MMXIV being absolutely stacked on the vocal front, with every person having a very distinctive voice when they appear in the song. Aniara is performed in Swedish, so as someone who is none to familiar with the language, I can’t really speak to the quality of the lyrics, but that is one of the benefits of heavy metal’s penchant for yelling, screaming, and growling through everything — we often don’t understand the lyrics anyway, and more often than not the vocalist is serving as either a percussive instrument of their own or as a melody line. Jonas had made it clear during his time trying to get the kickstarter for this disc funded, though, that he was remaining as close as possible to the Aniara poem as it was, so passages surfacing throughout the song are to be expected. The segments in between the movements are either little quick ambient breaks or distorted narration to help set up the next series of blasting drums and guitar assaults.
Musically, Necrosavant keeps things fairly death metal with a light blackening on top. There’s actually quite a few melodies and riffs that repeat themselves throughout the whole of Aniara, surfacing and then diving just as quickly back into the distorted murk. Parts of the song are interwoven with each other, and the little motifs that keep risng up again and again help move the song along and actually make it so that the track goes by really fast. For a track with such a long run time, it’s surprising how dynamic Aniara MMXIV is. Between the different vocalists exchanging verses with each other and rhythmic guitar sections coming back to reprise earlier movements, you almost don’t notice the time passing.
In fact, there’s really only two real big checkpoints to try and keep track of, as they’re probably the largest shifts music-wise across the disc. The first comes before Tobias picks up the vocal torch from Jonas for a bit, about twelve minutes into the song. It comes after a quick, acoustic break and picks things up like the apocalypse, a harried death metal section. The second part is closer to the end, after Alex and Daniel spend a bunch of time screaming at each other; it’s another small break but spills into a ride-bell-heavy groove that helps close out the whole CD. Everything else in Aniara seems to shift and grow organically, so there’s no super-obvious stop — just different vocalists checking in and out in order to add to the stacks of vocal lines.
I was initially worried about how we were going to cover Aniara MMXIV post-release because I didn’t want it to seem like we had some weird vested interest in the album’s success. I know I covered the Kickstarter funding quite a bit, but it’s only because I was geniunely impressed with the six or so samples that Jonas had posted during the lead-up to the funding campaign and really wanted to see how the whole thing would turn out; the subject matter being a sci-fi poem was a huge plus, as it continues to vary the death metal genre even further into something that has covered a wide swath of topics this year.
However, I can honestly and wholeheartedly report that Aniara MMXIV is a huge surprise and an impressive release — Jonas manages to make Necrosavant and Aniara work, even as a forty-five minute release consisting of just one song. It is as dynamic as the poem itself, a slab of groove-heavy death metal with a cast of truly impressive vocalists at its beck and call. He manages to make the song remain interesting the whole time, so that you’re not wanting to just skip around to favorite parts. Yes, the time investment up-front looks huge, but the time flies by so quickly, especially as you’re shifting from section to section — from the ultra-heavy death metal sections to the thrashier bits, to the quiet ambient breaks with narration in between, to the final, distorted voice that closes everything out. Aniara MMXIV proved to be a very pleasant surprise and far more than I had expected.
Aniara MMXIV is available on iTunes and Amazon.