Often lumped together with Varathron and Rotting Christ, Necromantia were another important band of the Greek black metal scene. Of course, each of these bands had their own specific take on black metal; whereas the early works of Varathron and Rotting Christ bring to mind the civilizations of Ancient Greece, Necromantia’s Scarlet Evil Witching Black resembles something theatrical. For a quick point for reference, think of a sinister version of Infidel Art, but remove the nods to Celtic Frost and add a dose of heavy metal instead and you’re nearly there.
Like a play that takes place in the underworld, Scarlet Evil Witching Black is brought to life by the several diabolical characters that all have their own unique features. Magus Wampyr Daoloth venomously screeches through these songs while maintaining the ideal balance between intensity and cohesiveness. Quite a plus if you’d ask me… another plus would be the real drummer that sets early Necromantia apart from some of their country mates at the time and he manages to create a living environment for the guitar and bass duo to play around with. Baron Blood toys around with an 8 string bass and is responsible for a demolishing wave of distorted sound that might sound unappealing on paper, but it really works for this kind of style. For a quick example, try “Black Mirror”, which opens with a faithful Sabbath-esque riff that crashes down with an enormous amount of weight and would make Geezer Butler extremely proud. So far so good and while I’m convinced that a stripped-down version of Scarlet Evil Witching Black would have sounded just fine, there’s more to it. We also have a guy that goes by the name of Inferno, who summons the right amount of ghastly ambiance with his keys and pianos, but rarely dominates the album with an overpowering presence. I’m very fond of these kind of musicians and if that wasn’t enough yet, session musician Yiannis “The Worshipper of Pan” even shares his saxophone skills on track 4 of the album… which is surprising to say at least (although I’m not too fond of the track itself, but more on that later).
The thing with Greek black metal is that I could easily see non-black metal fans enjoying this kind of style. Newcomers might expect an endless amount of incoherent raspy snarls, overpowering blastbeats and non-stop piercing riffs from these bands, but nothing could be further from the truth. No doubt that Scarlet Evil Witching Black gets pretty damn heavy at times (and the pure blackened riff-work is part of it), but it’s not just a matter of heaviness that does it for me. You just never know what lurks around the corner, as Necromantia have plenty of surprises in store and that makes Scarlet Evil Witching Black so appealing. “Pretender to the Throne (Opus I: The Usurper’s Spawn)” kicks off with some groaning Rotting Christ-esque riffs, before it morphs into a brief folky hymn and eventually reaches its exciting climax of blackened, yet vigor bass majesty. “Scarlet Witching Dreams” vaguely resembles Fates Warning’s “The Sorceress” with that enormous chorus riff, but also features some interesting and contrastive verses; at first the track blasts onward with malice and later embraces some delicate acoustics that I’m also fond of. “Pretender to the Throne (Opus II: Battle at the Netherworld)” recaptures Wager’s theme before it turns into an alluring bass-driven attack that highlights some of the record’s best mid-paced moments that would probably leave the best impression behind for people who aren’t huge black metal fans to begin with.
Not every song works as well as it should and while the amount of metallic punch rarely appears out of sight though, I should admit that I’m not too fond of the chaotic parts, as they lack some of the bombast that they should be responsible for. Take the fastest moments of “Devilskin” for example; while I could see the appeal of them, they go one ear in and in ear out and sound too pedestrian for my taste… fortunately Necromantia never dwell on these kind of riffs, but it’s worth mentioning if you’d ask me. While you could never fault the band for sounding unambitious either, several tracks end up more confusing than downright effective as well, which is another minor issue. Oh, the saxophone in “The Arcane Light of Hecate” creates quite a haze, but why use it in a track that has so little going on? I’d have liked to have heard the saxophone blend with some actual riffs instead, so this sounds more like a wasted opportunity than anything else. On a related note, “Spiritdance” starts off with an overpowering riff that’s hard not to get carried away by, only to lose its sense of direction quickly later – I could do with less spoken passages and gloomy keys and more harsh vocals and action-driven riffs instead.
Scarlet Evil Witching Black certainly isn’t the pinnacle of Greek black metal (nothing beats Thy Mighty Contract and Non Serviam as far as I’m concerned), but its ambitious scope can’t be denied. So, I like it quite a bit and if you’re looking for some ambitious, bizarre, yet hefty black metal, then you’ll like it too.
November 15th, 1995
Score: 77/100 – Greece’s most evil play
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