Necropanther Thrashes and Slashes on “Argos”
Over the course of the last decade, a massive burgeoning of creativity and experimentation has emerged in Colorado’s metal scene, specifically in the realm of extreme metal. A muscular surge from the underground has allowed groups displaying grotesque hybrids of sound such as blackened sludge and harrowing psychedelic death metal to percolate up to the surface of widespread recognition. But despite the basement aesthetics and tight-knit environment of Colorado’s metal world, most of its well-known entities continue to follow certain stylistic trends and revolve around common threads despite their cutting-edge creativity. There is one Colorado outfit, however, which has constructed a markedly independent, free-standing sonic identity for themselves from the ground up, and that outfit is Denver-based melodic death metal quartet Necropanther.
Eschewing all fads and patterns, even the aforementioned newly invented styles so widespread amongst their hometown contemporaries, their fun-loving, thrash-soaked brand of melodic death metal precision is DIY in every sense of the word. Since the group’s inception, they have self-produced all of their records and released each of these independently. Though not without a tinge of influence from the mid-1990s Swedish scene (their sophomore album was in fact mixed and mastered by Swedish producer Fredrik Nordström), their sound is distinctly American and timelessly compelling, with a commitment to pure professional musicianship uncommon even in today’s celebrated death metal revival. While the vast majority of the genre currently favors hideous, dungeon-crawling themes of gore and horror, Necropanther focus alternatively on more cerebral, expansive concepts drawn from science fiction and fantasy, as seen on their vivid, sprawling 2017 record Eyes of Blue Light, which was based on the gargantuan realm of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Continuing with this literary theme, their upcoming third album The Doomed City will follow the narrative of Logan’s Run, a 1960s sci-fi novel that was adapted in a cult classic 1976 film.
Wishing to understand more about Necropanther’s truly idiosyncratic and unparalleled approach to death metal, I met with the band to discuss their perspective on creating music, the process for their upcoming record, and the group’s career thus far. As a sort of star-crossed confirmation of the band’s DIY essence, they were set to perform at the Summit in downtown Denver – not the crepuscular bars of South Broadway, or the foggy warehouse environs of Rhinoceropolis – for a pro wrestling exhibition, of all things. Organized by guitarist Haakon Sjogren’s old roommate, with whom he had once tried his hand as a pro wrestler, the over-the-top gaudiness of the event was a welcome alternative to the waves of leather and cigarette smoke that typically engulf Denver’s extreme metal gatherings. Thus, I sat down with all four members of the group and began to extrapolate the quirks and nuances that define Necropanther.
Forming Necropanther, what was your vision going in? What were your stylistic goals, and what was your aesthetic vision at your inception?
Anop: I think Joe had a good quote that we’ve had on either our Facebook page or Bandcamp for a while, which is “short thrashy death metal songs from a dystopian future” and I think that’s kinda how it started: short, thrashy death metal songs that are fun to play and lyrics that delve into more of a sci-fi realm rather than the horror realm of death metal.
Johnson: Also I think a guiding principle of this band is to have fun, and so it’s stuff that’s fun to play, but we also want to make sure that we include elements of true metal and hooks and accessibility so that it has an audience and maybe is an expansive and inclusive form of uptempo metal.
Sjogren: I don’t think we really had a tone or style in mind, we kinda just brought our abilities together and the result is Necropanther today.
Since Necropanther first formed, you’ve produced all of your music yourselves. The Doomed City has a sound that’s incredibly polished and also fully compelling. How do you achieve that incredibly clean yet rich and organic sound that’s in high contrast to most modern DIY extreme metal?
Anop: We all have a long background in music, performing in bands, school bands and stuff like that. So we all have a great knowledge of how to perform well, that’s a big part of getting a good clean record. But also knowledge of the recording process; we’ve had a lot of years in bands, we’ve all put out records for which we were not proud of the way they sounded when we were younger. But it’s all a learning process, I think we like to hear our own tones, our own natural…how we sound live, we really want to bring that out on the albums.
Johnson: As Paul said, we’re accomplished musicians and we value clarity of expression as part of that inclusive, memorable, expansive view of metal. We’re not trying to put on a clinic, but we do have something to say and we want it to be expressed clearly. That hi-fi, high production quality standard is the way to express that.
Sjogren: I think we also stand out a little bit from the Denver scene with that clarity, we’re not a huge, loud, noise-driven sound, we want that clarity and expressiveness.
Speaking of standing out, you've released all of your music independently including your new album. How has that endeavor worked out for you thus far? Do you think it’s been the right path for you as an outfit?
Anop: Yeah, it’s been great. There’s a big crowd for metal in Denver, and a big crowd for music in general. There’s a big group of musicians here that are really awesome too, and they really love playing. It’s not hard to go out, have fun, find bands to play with and get people out.
Johnson: I think for us it’s important to be able to chart our own path, and I think we’ve improved in our output and improved in our process as we’ve gone along. An independent output and process helps us to chart our own path.
Corich: Doing everything independently we definitely don’t create boundaries for ourselves and we don’t limit ourselves, so we’re allowed to explore stylistically a little more, explore our concept a little more, and play whatever we want.
Sjogren: And that, to me, makes it fun. We don’t have restrictions; everyone writes the music, everyone writes the lyrics, we all participate.
Where Eyes of Blue Light was based conceptually on Frank Herbert’s Dune, The Doomed City is based on Logan’s Run. With that more dystopian, urban space, how deeply intertwined are the plot and themes of that narrative intertwined into the album itself?
Anop: I would say lyrically it’s definitely a conceptual album. It runs through our basic interpretation of the storyline from the beginning of the novel to the end.
Corich: We kind of combined the movie and novel together on the record. As far as how intertwined it is, we go through a tell the story as we perceive it through the book and the movie, and we kind of hone in or focus in on little spots as we go along, just things we find interesting or compelling, we’ll explore those more in-depth.
Johnson: Having a theme for the record helps to focus considering how much writing we do, everyone in the band writes music and lyrics so when we start to put together a record it’s like “how do we scope this down,” and having a theme or a concept helps to do that.
Anop: And in that realm, we usually have the music or most of the music before we have the lyrics, so we’ll have music and concepts for lyrics but we won’t have what’s gonna be on the album until later on in the process. Musically, I don’t necessarily feel like the storyline gets involved too much, but obviously some songs work better for lyrics than other songs.
Sjogren: And since all of us are writing lyrics, even though it is conceptual, all four of us write in different styles.
So you feel it’s pretty easy to merge your styles together and come up with something collaborative?
Johnson: Absolutely, and I think the collaboration has only increased, and that’s one of the things I’m proudest about in this band, this project, this group of people I get to work with.
What are some of your overarching musical influences, collectively, and what new elements from these influences have you blended into The Doomed City?
Anop: I like that we all have different musical influences, and we don’t all have the same two favorite albums of all time, maybe not even the same five albums of all time. So we all come from different musical influences and it melds together really well and keeps our options open.
Corich: We all align as far as death metal, especially melodic death metal, but we pull from jazz, hardcore and thrash metal, classical music, to straight up rock n’ roll. We pull from a lot of different places.
Johnson: I think most of the influences are similar, but on Eyes of Blue Light we definitely tried to expand the palette, and then with the addition of Marcus as a writer we made a conscious decision to expand the palette again with Doomed City. Compared to the last record, I was surprised how much more American this one ended up sounding. I knew that was likely, but it was something that surprised me.
Eyes was mixed and mastered by Fredrik Nordstrom in Sweden, so the Swe-death influence was very apparent on that record. This time you worked with local legend Dave Otero, so I wanted to ask how involved you were with that part of the process. Did having him close by allow you to have more input?
Johnson: With Eyes of Blue Light just Paul and I attended the mix, whereas working with Otero it was easier for us all to attend the mix. So yes, we were all there to put our stamp on the finished product, and also in keeping with our self-produced concept, I think we all learned from the previous releases and were able to direct and mix more effectively than we had in the past.
Corich: We also wanted Otero to give it that localized “Denver sound” we’re adding our two cents to what Denver has to offer.
Anop: He had a really good solid base of the mix when we came in, and we were there for three days straight.
Johnson: That’s part of our program: we don’t want the records to sound exactly the same, we want to hear the interpretation of the people that we work with and demonstrate different facets of the band as we progress.
But you did record in the same studio as all of previous releases, with Felipe Patino. How has that process evolved over time, and how has that relationship with him grown?
Johnson: Felipe is great to work with and obviously a consistent collaborator for us, even before this band. We’ve been really happy with the sounds we’ve gotten working with him, so I would expect that will continue.
Anop: Building rapport with someone and working with them over and over again, they already know what you want, but they already have ideas of how to make it better the next time, so it’s really cool to work with the same person.
Corich: He’s very intuitive and does great work for us. I think we improved a lot recording with him from the last record to this one.
Sjogren: And I love how this entire album was made in Colorado, so the sound is the Colorado sound.
What do you see as the biggest progression in style or in sound from your previous releases to The Doomed City?
Johnson: I think the biggest difference is the contributions from Marcus’s writing. He played on the last record, but on this one he contributed four songs and more lyrics. There are a lot of things that are great about that, but one of the thing’s that is noticeable from a stylistic point of view is that this record is thrashier with denser harmonies than the last record, and even though there were more guitars on this record it’s less up front with melody.
Corich: Stylistically this one’s a little more expansive than Eyes of Blue Light was, we draw from more influences and we touch on a few different styles that we’ve never used before.
Anop: Also, we threw a lot of Easter eggs and little surprises in the lyrics and the artwork, so if you really dig into and think about what we’ve said, a lot of it is just inside references to bands that we like. If you listen and look closely, you can find those things in this album, and we really didn’t do that with the last few records. Thought about it a little too much probably.
Are you planning a nationwide run of live shows for the record, or are you hopping on any other tours in the near future?
Johnson: We definitely like playing out of town, and we will put some out of town dates together. Nationwide tour is probably putting it too strongly. We’ll put together out of town shows where it makes sense.
Anop: We’ll probably do shorter runs in the area, in the Midwest, maybe do weekends and stuff like that. We all have jobs and careers and stuff, so…this is really a band that we just started to have fun, and as long as we’re still having fun and making music together we’re gonna keep doing it.
That’s fantastic to hear. Any last words, anything you still wanted to mention about your upcoming album?
Anop: Im just stoked to be with my buddies having fun and making awesome music, and I’m stoked that it’s getting out there and people are enjoying it .
Sjogren: I second that.
Johnson: I like that we’re able to have fun together and grow artistically, and I think that’s what the new record shows. Eyes of Blue Light was a step, The Doomed City is another step and we’re gonna keep growing.
I was glad to hear such effusive positivity from Necropanther regarding their commitment to personal musical integrity; their love of fun and collaboration is more than apparent on The Doomed City, and the album’s closer “Argos” is no exception. Presenting us with the record’s second single two weeks in advance, the group have unveiled “Argos,” the gripping, gallant final track of their upcoming record, streaming above.
The track opens with a stoic march of harmonizing guitars and a mid-tempo percussive stomp, as Anop’s grisly, gurgling blackened vocals descend upon the scene. Valiant harmonies and continue to unfold as the piece transitions into an utterly righteous vintage metal stomp. The instrumental and vocal performances present in Argos readily display the well-established cohesion between Necropanther’s four members -- Dave Otero’s contribution to the group’s newly evolved sound does not go unnoticed; his aural influence is evidenced especially by the final moments of “Argos,” as a visceral double bass and tremolo guitars grind against each other with remarkable lucidity. Though “Argos,” and The Doomed City as a whole may not present the listener the fastest or most brutally technical interpretation of their genre, Necropanther’s careful attention to detail and a perfectly executed performance style exhibits their comprehensive compositional melodic death metal prowess, and ultimately their affinity of music solely for its own sake.
The Doomed City releases November 15th.