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Review: Narthraal – Screaming From The Grave

Take a step back in time, to the turning point where thrash metal had slowly evolved into death metal, celebrating a tradition composed of a formidable blend of tasty guitar riffs and a punk beat to keep the heads banging. Icelandic four-piece Narthraal is an old-school death metal band, currently signed to Inverse Records. Having already released two Eps, they will be releasing “Screaming From The Grave” on the 26th of May.

The first track “Death of The Undying” opens with a tremolo riff to set the mood of a coffin-induced traditional thrash flow, giving an audience at a show no option but to bang their heads, and cause a collision of shoulders to the point where everyone starts shoving and someone is crowd-surfing in a matter of seconds. Yes, it is very easy to see why thrash metal was so addictive in the 80s, there were very few dull moments at those shows – even today, we find the sound timeless and intoxicating. It would seem that every riff in this song is catchy and well-fitted throughout the song, interchanging between transitions to set and change paces. Morbid Angel and George Fisher fans will love the vocals of Viktor Penalver, a very raw and raspy sound that had been around before the cookie monster vocals became a thing.

Title track “Screaming From The Grave” has an echoing blast-beat feel that takes me back to the early 90s days of Incantation and a rising-growl that reminds me of George Fisher’s side band Paths of Possession. The band was right to use this song as the title track considering how powerful and catchy it is. I honestly hope these guys end up touring with Cannibal Corpse one, I can just imagine Penalver and Fisher standing neck to neck terrorizing the audience with the howls found on this track.

The next two songs “Million Graves To Fill” and “Worldwide Destruction” don’t actually sound anything alike as one would cater to Benediction fans, while the other would do a pleasant justice to Death and fans, but if I were to describe the songs individually, you would think I was either being repetitive, or describing the same song. The fact is, both of the songs have very good intro riffs and outstanding pre-chorus riffs that tie the verses to the choruses effortlessly. Listeners will come to find that the guitar solos on most of the songs on the album are not really technical or melodic, but rather, they exist purely to serve the mood and tradition of the songs; not doing anything outlandish, just playing thrash/death the way its devoted fans would expect. For something like this, all we can do is respect it.

The fifth song “Envy” has a 90s death metal feel that will have Grave and Morbid Angel fans really satisfied, particularly with the vocals-guitar chemistry, as the vocals steer clear of any cookie monster business, but at the same time give the guttural sounding screams a rest, allowing listeners to hear the lyrics a lot clearer, allowing the guitars to complement them from beginning to end. The sixth song, “Descent Into Darkness” however is quite the opposite, it has as extremely early 80s feel, easily for fans of Slayer’s Show No Mercy album. The tremolo-ringing guitar harmony in the chorus is the best part of the song. While very basic, it is strangely addictive, and you will want to have this song on repeat. Perhaps this could be the radio song. Now, the reason I have clumped these two songs together is because I feel that these two are the album’s highest points, the two best songs on the album that would inspire one to consider starting an old-school death metal band of their own, or at the very least, have the kids learning these two songs.

The thing I can always appreciate about an album having a guitar solo in nearly every song is the honor of picking out the song that has the best guitar solos. Well this is none other than “Blood Path”, seventh song on the album. It opens with what is perhaps the best guitar solo on the whole album, and the reason I say ‘perhaps’, is because the second guitar solo is just as good. Now I really hope that the current lineup stays as is, because I can easily see the guitarists in Nathraal becoming exactly what Jeff Hannemann and Kerry King were in Slayer – two shredderific titans raising the bar of thrash metal. Let us hope they get there.

Unfortunately, this is where the songs began to pale in comparison to the other songs on the album. It happens to the best of bands, but there is no shame. You see, by themselves, the songs sound decent, but when you have heard the best that the album has to offer, one cannot help but notice that certain songs are just not as powerful. To begin, “Symbols of Hate” is a catchy song, but it feels a bit dull through the majority of the song. The riff made up of a chug with a tail fill was good at the start of the song, but I really wish they had not kept it ongoing during the verse, as it becomes repetitive. The chorus does rescue the song, and the bridge does add some variety, but throughout the song, that first riff is repeated with very minor changes. The solo is also an improvement, but it does not make me want to listen to this song again.

Unfortunately again, repetition is also the downfall of “Feed The Pig”, after a bit of a horror sample recording, the song is erupted by a menacing guitar intro that builds into a traditional thrash riff – which I really like. The pre-verse riff is also a hopeful outcome for the song, but by this point, when it gets back into the verse, the menacing guitar riff starts to feel repetitive very quickly as you hear more and more of it throughout the song. To compromise, the riff is later on played an octave higher in the bridge; this really doesn’t help the song, and whatever interjecting segments arrive are not enough to turn the song around.

The final song, “Dismember the Entombed” begins a little too happy for its title. Honestly, I can imagine people dancing at a party to this tune rather than any dismembering mental image. The hook in the pre-chorus is a great improvement, but the chorus is a dull display of whole note power chords. The bridge then comes in feeling very rushed before fading in what seems to be a bass outro concluded with more whole-note riffs and a slower version of the bridge. BUT THEN, IT GETS BETTER, There is a very sweet guitar harmony followed by an onslaught of guitar solos, before fading out to what is the end of the track. I have to tell you, I was getting worried that the last song would leave listeners feeling bored and uninspired, but the band did the right thing and concluded the album to have them wanting more.

Overall, this band has really delivered to their audience. Given the few hiccups close to the conclusion, 85% of the album is very enjoyable and inspiring. Whether you’re a Death, Morbid Angel, Grave, or a Dismember fan, this album is definitely something old-school death and thrash metallers will want to add to the collection. As for the younger generation of listeners, I can only suggest one keeps an open mind if they ever hope to understand and appreciate some of the earlier styles of death metal responsible for the smorgasbord we have today.

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