Atragon play doom metal like they were born to do it. Their 2017 debut I, Necromancer stomps out doom riffs of the absolute highest pedigree (seriously, I dare you not to headbang to these riffs). But it takes more than awesome riffs to make a doom metal album truly memorable. These wily Scots provide the spice to make I, Necromancer legitimately amazing by way of Jan Gardner’s unique and gruff vocals, perfect production, and especially through Ruaridh Daunton’s borderline virtuosic guitar leads.
The song that best encapsulates Atragon is, helpfully, the title track “I, Necromancer”. Swaggering, bareknuckle drums herald one of those rare glorious riffs that seems to pulse and soar with its own heartbeat, as if it were a living thing given a voice rather than a collection of notes penned by humans. Jan Gardner’s vocals complete the sound, straddling the line between harsh and clean vocals with his gruff roars. He’s blessed with the range to both dwell in the depths of the crunchy riffs and ride with the whammying leads, and his idiosyncratic singing style keeps the vocal melodies interesting with his tendency to wildly shift pitch on the final syllable of a phrase. Interesting tendencies aside, Gardner still knows when it’s time to let loose and just fucking yell; listen to how he just barks the lyrics in the second half of the song: “And I, Necromancer in black!”
And then the lead guitar comes in. If you’ve been paying attention to this article, you’ll recall that I said Ruaridh Daunton’s lead guitar playing is borderline virtuosic. I meant it. He uses wah, whammy, and string-bending so creatively that the arching, dazzling notes of his guitar don’t sound like a guitar with effects applied; it sounds like this is what the electric guitar was supposed to sound like the whole time, and we’ve only just found out. The solos careen and tumble from fast arpeggiated shredding to soulful heartstring plucking in the space of breath. They’re absolutely mesmerizing.
And that’s just the title track! Atragon has quite a bit more to offer, and the album stays interesting by playing with different styles (see: the doom ballad, “Guilt Returns”, or the doom epic, “Jesus Wept”). The lyrics are also interesting enough to merit following along, if reading about the rise and fall of a necromancer tickles your fancy.
Atragon aren’t particularly different from your average doom metal band. They’re just really, really, good at what they do. If the first time you listened to Black Sabbath you thought, “Gee, I hope an entire genre of music derives from this band”, boy, do I have the album for you…