Benighted take their label as a goregrind band quite literally. From promotional photos of the band covered in blood and licking knives to the blood-curdling vocals that dominate much of their music, the French deathgrind band’s mission statement could be boiled down to assaulting their listeners’ eardrums and making them feel sick to their stomachs. Whilst the brutal breakdowns, booming blastbeats and vile vocal performances are all features of an archetypal deathgrind outfit, Benighted have always had a way of presenting themselves that made them seem particularly revolting. For these reasons, I have always admired the band’s unequivocal enthusiasm towards extreme death metal, but in the past, their music has seen mixed results, often due to their adhering very closely to a cut and dried deathgrind formula and as a result some questionable production choices. However, I do feel that the group has been gradually improving across the course of their previous handful of releases, so I was intrigued as to what results their next album would yield. With the news of the group’s longest-running bassist and drummer, Eric Lombard and Kevin Foley, leaving Benighted, being replaced by Pierre Arnoux on bass and long-time Necrophagist drummer Romain Goulon, my interest was piqued to yet a greater extent. The new album, Necrobreed, comes as Benighted’s eighth studio effort, and sees the band continue to hone their punishing, eccentric, brutal death metal sound. Whilst the ways in which Necrobreed pushes the boat out compared to the group’s previous work is somewhat minimal, there is most definitely a heightened focus and actualisation on this project that makes it stand out amongst the group’s recent material, making a case for itself as one of the better records in their entire discography.
The listener is introduced to Necrobreed by some growling bass drones, courtesy of Arnoux, and some cacophonous ambience before a rather creepy spoken word section, wherein a mother is telling her child how much she loves them, after which a snapping noise can be heard and the mother proceeds to sing Hush Little Baby as some eerie wind chimes lurk in the background. Whilst this disturbing introductory track stays true to Benighted’s repugnant aesthetic, there is most definitely a more serious and slightly less comical atmosphere here, compared to their usual material. As the cacophony at the backend of this introduction builds up almost to the point of white noise, Benighted burst into the first full song, Reptilian, and just as the opening seemed slightly more serious in tone, the band’s sound seems more mature as well. The ripping riffs that open this cut are as devastating and merciless as one would expect from the band at this point in their career, but there is a feeling of a more calculated energy in their performance this time around. In the guitar department, the pairing of Oliver Gabriel and Emanuel Dalle displays a heightened sense of cohesiveness, and the oppressive rhythm guitar supports the precise lead guitar incredibly well. Reptilian also establishes the vocal diversity featured on this album, with frontman Julien Truchan alternating between yells, cutthroat shrieks, grumbling roars, and the occasional pig-squealing. As for the latter, this vocal approach, which is fairly commonplace in goregrind, often turns a lot of people off. I feel that some bands can overuse this vocal technique, but in the case of Benighted, it most definitely works well with their aesthetic and they pull it off successfully, for the most part. Plus, if pig-squealing is something that irks you personally, Truchan does tend to keep it to a minimum and, when he does use it, it’s typically for the benefit of the song, in my opinion. On the topic of vocals, Forgive Me Father is a noteworthy track as a result of the fantastic vocal feature courtesy of Trevor Strnad of The Black Dahlia Murder fame. Strnad really steps up to the plate and provides a vocal performance that works impressively well with the blisteringly fast pace of this song. Overall, the general vibe that Necrobreed gives off pertains to a slightly tighter Benighted who display a more mature approach to songwriting. For the most part, this works in the band’s favour, but they do feel a bit more calculated to the point of sounding ever so slightly less discernible from other artists working within a similar idiom. Benighted have never been a groundbreaking act in the goregrind genre, but they most definitely maintained a unique presence in the scene and, whilst this album is most definitely an improvement from 2014’s Carnivore Sublime, I see room for the group to work this more focussed approach into a more pronounced personality.
Although Necrobreed is relatively run-of-the-mill for the most part, it exhibits a significant amount of diversity with regards to Benighted’s approach to songwriting, creating for many tracks standing out as having an individual character to them in the context of the record. Leatherface, for instance, stands out not just as a result of the return of the band’s use of film excerpts, with a short piece of dialogue lifted from the 1985 action film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Commando, but also because of its relatively straightforward, mosh pit-filling grindcore groove. Gabriel brandishes his technical prowess very well on Der Doppelgaenger, which features one of the kookiest lead riffs on the record, whilst Monsters Make Monsters stands out thanks to its simple but effective chanted refrain. I find Cum With Disgust to be a particularly ear-pricking track, and not just thanks to its Cannibal Corpse-esque title. The fat, grumbling bass tone and booming drum pattern that introduce the song are absolutely punishing, and the band do a really good job of building this song up. It also boasts the most amusing extended pig-squeal on the entire record, and it’s hard not to chuckle at, but in a way wherein the listener can tell that the band are having a bit of fun themselves. Indeed, whilst Benighted records in the past have revealed all their tricks and gimmicks by the first few cuts in the tracklisting, Necrobreed does a relatively good job of providing most of the songs featured with enough character as to make for a handful of tracks that stand out thanks to a unique little twist that they display.
Overall, Necrobreed exhibits the over-the-top depravity of Benighted in a way that would most definitely satisfy their fans, but the band also brings an increased amount of substance to their aesthetic, with improved songwriting, tighter performances and a much less claustrophobic production value that allows these songs to impart the full extent of their extremity. This record is by no means revolutionary for the genre, but it is one of the band’s most successful endeavours thus far in their career, and there is little here that a fan of extreme death metal wouldn’t find appealing. Benighted’s key selling point is their entertainment value, and Necrobreed stands out as perhaps the group’s most provocative and generally enjoyable project to date. They certainly still have room for improvement as far as really setting themselves apart from their competition goes, but Necrobreed is a big step in the right direction.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10