Nekrogoblikon – Power (self-released, 27 August 2013)
Dethlehem – Destroyers of the Realm (self-released, 06 January 2015)
Hey, folks. Today’s theme is going to be fantasy-RPG-inspired metal. I know that sounds oddly specific, but there are a couple bands in that realm I’d like to discuss, and they both just happen to be playing a show together later this week. First, Californian horde Nekrogoblikon, as you may have guessed, write songs that are based on goblins — those devilish inhabitants of folklore, who in this instance resemble the nasty green creatures of Warhammer and later fantasy games, more so than the bumbling little muppets from Labyrinth, for example. The band has been around for a few years — the EP I’ll soon talk about was released nearly three years ago, in fact — but since they’re currently on a raid across the country, it seemed like as good of a time as any to share their music with you today. Nekrogoblikon‘s tour will be storming through Pittsburgh in just a few days (accompanied by Urizen from Fort Worth), and when it does, rest assured that a ragtag band of local heroes will be ready for them.
Regular readers of this website are already familiar with Pittsburgh’s own Dethlehem, perhaps from the time we did an interview with them, or from any number of other times the band has been mentioned here. For those who somehow managed to miss out on these guys previously, imagine a group of musicians who have gathered together in precisely the way a typical Dungeons & Dragons adventuring party would: someone who has good fighting skills, someone who knows magic, people who can specialize in lead guitar or rhythm guitar or bass guitar, someone who is good at sneaking around quietly and gathering information or stealing things, folks with vocal skills and drumming know-how, and so on. Basically, a group of people whose strengths and weaknesses can complement each other, and who can work together harmoniously.
According to all of the photos and videos I’ve seen, it doesn’t seem as though Nekrogoblikon typically appears or performs in costume (although they do have an ever-present mascot, of sorts, named John Goblikon), but each member does have an assumed goblin identity, and the five-song twenty-minute romp that is Power fully employs that characterization to sound as vicious and nasty as possible. Beyond the typical growling or howling that’s found in death and/or black metal, the vocals here are filled with gurgles, snarls, and sneers.
Likewise, the guitars are generally fast and angry, scurrying about with a mad sense of ferocity. But like the devious critters themselves, there’s much more to the story than just what’s on the surface! Much of the material here, despite the overall nasty attitude, also has a sense of fun to it. In some places, like “Friends (in Space)” and “Derailed,” some sound effects and orchestral tones injected into the background tend to give the music a slight video gamey vibe. And the closing track, “Giraffe” is not only upbeat and in a major key, but actually kind of silly and inexplicably goofy.
The juxtaposition of demonic and impish works best, in this reviewer’s opinion, in songs like “Nothing but Crickets” and “Derailed” where here and there the band shows its playful side, in a bouncy manner that’s a bit reminiscent of Finntroll — hopefully it’s not offensive to mention trolls around a group of goblins! Generally speaking, this EP is a nice, short introduction to the ways of the greenskins — for those who check it out and get hooked, you might be interested to learn the band had a couple previous albums, and one newer one …
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Destroyers of the Realm is the third full-length album for the Dethlehem crew, and their first recording output with new vocalist Brutalitus the Bloodbeard — which was one of the changes that was discussed in that interview I mentioned earlier, but much turmoil and strife has transpired in their homeland of Ghorusalem since that time; prior to recording this album a new bassist had to join the party, who goes by the name of Grimshaw Longfellow (and I’ve heard unfortunate rumors that they also lost one of their guitarists to some pitfall during a more recent quest). But despite all of the obstacles, the group has perservered, and finally managed to successfully complete and release this album a little over a year ago.
Consisting of eleven tracks altogether, including several interludes (with a special guest appearance by former vocalist Lord Bonecrush as the narrator) to help along the story line, Destroyers of the Realm is clearly laid out in linear fashion to tell a sequence of stories — and as such, works better when listened to as a whole, rather than isolating individual songs. Some highlights of their journey include stumbling across a dwarf named Dildo Huggins (who is joined by a whole team of dwarves — coincidentally voiced by members of Urizen — for a brief appearance opposite a dulcet-voiced soothsayer in the song “Shadow Remnants of the Guardian Shield”; later they encounter the Dread Goblin Roberts (a cameo by Captain Blackguts of The Bloody Seamen) and his ship in “Final Voyage of the Gobblinaught.”
Just like with Nekrogoblikon, there is clearly a lot of gimmickry here, that’s certainly true. The presentation is often fairly over-the-top, and when combined with the self-referential humor, it can be tough sometimes to decipher how much of this is tongue-in-cheek jabs at gamer geeks and metal nerds, and how much is sincere. Honestly, it’s probably an even blend of both, perhaps leaning more in the direction of authentic geekery, though they always make it clear they’re fully in on the joke.
But of course none of that would matter if the band didn’t have the talent necessary to put some substance behind the elaborate props and habiliments. Reading between the lines of fanciful yarn-spinning, you’ll find melodic death metal that’s well written, pristinely produced, and expertly executed. Most songs include some melodic elements, often in the form of a singalong-style chorus, but otherwise the vocals are suitably brutal; musically the riffs and solos are fast and technically complex, sometimes showy (in live performances, particularly epic solos are often accompanied by signs popping up with messages about experience points gained or leveling up) but never overshadowing. The song structures, while designed to carry the plot of the story, are typical of epic melodic death, with the incorporation of various influences from the worlds of deathcore, NWOAHM, and groove metal.
This video was taken from a Pittsburgh show in 2013, and includes a performance of “Oathbound”:
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Both releases can be streamed at Bandcamp (see below). Nekrogoblikon‘s Power is available in either MP3 or CD format right here. Dethlehem‘s Destroyers of the Realm — just like the rest of their catalog — can be downloaded for free (including a free digital copy of the first issue of the band’s comic book), or it’s also available on CD; you can find both of them here.
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at The Altar Bar – 1620 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh (Strip District) PA
Thursday, April 28, 2016 | doors@6:00 pm show@6:30
All ages — tickets are available for $15.00 with no service fees right here
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