I, Necromancer by AtragonRelease date: June 9, 2017
OK, this could be awkward. I’m supposed to tell you all about Atragon’s new record, in an objective, impartial kind of way. But, thing is, I know the chaps in the band really well. You could even call them friends. I’ve crashed in Ewen’s flat, eaten his pizza. I’ve even, god help me, seen his genitals. I’ve driven two hundred miles at stupid o’clock in the morning to get them home from a gig in Manchester because they were drunk and I wasn’t.
So, objectivity. Yes. I’m not about to tell you that I, Necromancer is shit. I couldn’t do that.
On the other hand, if it WAS shit, I wouldn’t be here writing about it. I’d have passed it off to somebody else. Somebody who’d happily tell you how awful it is. What a terrible band they are.
There are many people who have said such things. Many times. Including, but not limited to, the lads in the band themselves.
‘Terrible people’, they’d say. ‘Lazy drunken losers. Worst bass player in the world. Weak-ass drummer couldn’t knock the skin off a rice pudding.’ That sort of thing.
Well, let me tell you something. THESE PEOPLE ARE WRONG.
This record has been on its way for a very long time. Five, maybe six years, it’s taken, to finally achieve physical form, for many, many reasons. But here it is.
I’ve known these songs since they were babies. I was there when they shat their pants; when they dodged school; when they got pissed and threw up at their first party and when they first got busted for that little bit of weed. And here they are, all grown up. And in surprisingly good health.
Now, Atragon can never claim to be the tightest live band, so it’s good to finally hear these songs as they were always meant to be. And in the correct order. For I, Necromancer is a concept album, yes indeed, telling a story of necromancers, a desire for death, immortality, death, eternal torment and guilt1. And …wait. What? What does it sound like, you ask? Oh, OK then.
It’s a stoner/doom album. Never pretends to be anything else. You might draw comparisons with Sabbath, obviously, St. Vitus and Electric Wizard. Ewen will also offer Reverend Bizarre as a reference, if you ask him. But it’s a DAMNED FINE stoner/doom album. Yes.
Since they shed half of their guitar team, Ruaridh2 has had to step up and do the driving. And he does a grand job. Riffs are solid, solos are liquid. (The gas bit is a personal thing, and shall not be discussed here.) He’s everything that you could wish for. So too is ‘new boy’ Jason, a drummer of considerable heft, something Atragon sorely needed. Steady as a rock. Hard hitting. Unfussy. Not a dick.
Singer (and lyricist) Jan, too, gets to show us what he can do, that he can actually sing. His voice is unaffectedly raw and harsh, and entirely appropriate for the lyrics which, on the surface at least, follow a fairly standard Hammer Horror/fantasy direction. I suspect, however, that there’s a lot more going on there. Jan might be trying to exorcise some demons of his own here, but you’d need to ask him about them yourself. I’m not going to pry.
I mentioned the ‘concept album’ thing back there a bit, and it’s easy to see this as a single work in seven parts. There is, to be fair, much similarity between the songs, but this is not a bad thing. From the opening crawl of ‘Matriarch’ to the hollowed-out despair of ‘Guilt Returns’, the whole thing hangs together effortlessly. There are enough little treats and surprises, though, to keep it interesting. ‘Wallowing Wizard’, for example bumps along nicely in a proper headbanging dun-da-dun-da-DA-DA way, getting quite carried away with itself towards the latter half in a way that ALWAYS catches people out at gigs.
Another one of those surprises is the absolute belter that is ‘The Dead Weight of Unimportant Flesh’. You might, from the title, expect some slow grinding dirge, but you’d be wrong, oh so wrong. It does, right enough, start with a slow crunching riff and one of Jan’s death grunts, but give it a couple of minutes and it just hoofs it like Usain Bolt running for a bus. You might miss it, if you’re not paying attention, but contained here is a lovely little bass riff from Ewen, one of the very rare times when he gets a chance to stretch out a bit. Oh, it’s not complicated, or tricky or in any way fancy, but it’s just fun.
I should add a bit here about Ewen G Cameron, legendary bass player and gin-sponge. He gets a lot of stick, mostly good-natured, about his playing. True, he rarely strays beyond the two or three note riff, and audiences gasp when he uses more than one string during a song, but THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT’S NEEDED. His playing here is rock-solid, an immovable foundation underneath everything else. He doesn’t need to be Les Claypool. Being Ewen is enough.
Anyway. After ‘Dead Weight…’ we get ‘Jesus Wept’ fourteen minutes of classic Atragon. Hefty riffing, death grunts, false endings, widdly soloing, all of that and lots of it. Is it too long? Too self-indulgent? Not a bit of it.
Closer ‘Guilt Returns’ might seem a little out of place, so different from the rest of the album as it is. It’s a slow, grating swirl of bass and fingernails-on-a -blackboard guitar, but most of all it’s Jan venting his pain and anguish. It’s actually quite harrowing and, given the story running through the album, an entirely appropriate way to end it.
Well. There you go. As I said before, it’s good to, at last, hear these songs as they should be heard, away from the chaos of a live show. However much fun it is to have Jan bellowing in your face from less than an inch with his mic cable wrapped round your neck, however silly it is to laugh at Roo’s ridiculous dress sense, and however exciting it might be trying to guess when Ewen is going to take his clothes off, it’s so, so good to finally see these songs all grown up and ready for the world.
PS. I should also give a mention to producer Graeme Young at Chamber Studios who deserves credit for doing a grand job in the face of severe adversity and for getting Atragon to make a really good record. Cheers, Graeme.
- If Ewen is to be believed. He was, however, a bit drunk and rambling when he told me, so…
- Don’t fret about the name. Just call him Roo. Everybody does.