There was something compellingly convincing about NECRONAUTICAL from the start. Even on their DIY 2014 debut, "Black Sea Misanthropy", the Brits exuded a strong sense of conceptual and musical cohesion. With obvious forebears like HECATE ENTHRONED and CRADLE OF FILTH to emulate, at least on some aesthetic level, this Manchester quartet have steadily become one of UK black metal's most prominent dark forces. Two years on from the bold and bilious "Apotheosis", NECRONAUTICAL's fourth studio album is exactly the kind of confident and meticulously conceived record that separates champions from chumps.
The dark drama that black metal of this melodic, malevolent hue demands is here in plentiful supply, and there is no room for tongue-in-cheek schlock in the world of "Slain in the Spirit". An underlying seriousness, coupled with levels of aggression that anchor the whole thing firmly to underground values, make even the tootling keyboards on the epic "Occult Ecstatic Indoctrination" feel more authentic and unsettling than they would in a more polished context. But that's not to say that this isn't a vast and sonically rich affair: from the crushing, haunted overture of "Ritual & Recursion" to "Death Magick Triumphant"'s sinister sprawl, NECRONAUTICAL have pulled off that rare trick of balancing primitive filth with cutting-edge power.
They also have the songs to match. Steeped in the grim but melodic traditions of British black metal but infused with myriad subtly weaponized influences from elsewhere, both "Occult Ecstatic Indoctrination" and the towering title track bombard the listener with bleak, bellicose riffing and calloused, bloody hooks. "Pure Consciousness Event" is even better, propelled along on waves of weather-beaten melancholy, it's sublime collision with nefarious, subtly progressive heaviness and all-out, turbo-blasting war. "Contorting In Perpetuity" is another wicked gem, with an infectious central guitar motif, a brilliantly eerie mid-section diversion and at least two darkly ecstatic guitar solos. In contrast, "Necropsychonautics" is a near-flawless four-minute black metal anthem that, alongside the warped macabre of "Hypnagogia", showcases a sharper, more streamlined side to NECRONAUTICAL's songwriting. The latter's surging choral refrain could be the album's most startling and emotionally potent moment. As the song builds to a thrilling, operatic crescendo and a final, OPETH-like riff-flurry climax, it becomes irrefutably plain that this band have truly blossomed this time around.
To seal the deal, a bonus cover of SLAYER's "Disciple" adds surges of haunted-house keyboards and a hefty dose of scabrous muscularity to the thrash icons' live staple, with several gallons of extra vitriol pumped into the song's deity-taunting sentiment. Like everything else on "Slain in the Spirit", it resounds with satisfaction at an evil job well done.