Throughout my time with Netherwards, when I was not falling into a coma like state of sheer boredom, I found myself repeating the same thing over and over again: If you are going to write songs over nine minutes in length, make sure the songs have enough ideas to remain viable for such an idiotic run time. Anhedonist are clearly seeking to combine the more layered, aggressive Death/Doom of a band such as Funebrarum(an obvious influence) with Funeral Doom. But Netherwards merely ends up feeling like a pair of overly long, consciousness-obliterating-with-sheer-boredom Funebrarum B-sides, one half-way decent Funebrarum track with a much saner run-time of just over five minutes, and one of the worst, most pointless Funeral Doom tracks in history. It's an endurance test of seemingly endless suck that goes on forever while feeling totally directionless and atmosphere free. Netherwards does have a single thing going for it in that it at least sounds professional: the band don't miss any marks while playing the songs, and the production is appropriately heavy and static-choked. But both of these things are not really strengths, since the simplicity of the song-writing makes these tracks easy enough to play in your sleep and the band are signed to Dark Descent records, a label with enough budget to make solid sounding albums.
Lets take the opening track "Saturnine" as an example: it begins with almost two minutes of mostly silence with some slight noise, before the opening riff kicks in with a bit of fury. And there is nothing wrong with the opening riff, or in reality any of the riffs on the album: it's how everything is structured that makes Netherwards a chore. "Saturnine" is largely undefined and hazy, yet somehow manages to be utterly predictable, while the repeated use of pinch harmonics also brings a chuckle. The track feels all of it's utterly pointless nine minute and forty two seconds of running time, despite not really being written for it: the track essentially repeats the same idea back to back with a Funeral Doom intro, a bit of Incantation-like aggression and then some blatant diSEMBOWELMENT worshiping leads over the top of ultra-simplistic riffs that crawl along like a drunken zombie missing it's bottom half. It feels like two tracks shoe-horned together into a single one, which seems to me the only explanation for why it is so painful. Vocalist "V.B" is a competent enough Gallina impersonator, but little more, and his presence feels largely inconsequential to the actual songs: all of these tracks would have been equally unimpressive without him.
The following tracks, "Estrangement" and "Carne Liberatus" are stronger then the opening stinker, though barely. "Estrangement" at least feels like a single track with a single vision: one of lifeless, colorless fields of sleep and tedium. The track feels much, much longer than it's run time, and constantly seems on the verge of ending. Only it never does: it's like a Judd Apatow movie, featuring dozens of climaxes before it actually finishes, and leaves you uncomfortably shifting in your seat waiting for the fucking thing to be over. "Carne Liberatus" which I assume the band likely means as "Absolved Flesh" but could also be translated to "Free Steak"(I know that I am combining languages here, but I am trying to have some fun at the expense of this very joyless album) is better, but only because it ends before it becomes unlistenable. It's heavy, slow and very Old-School sounding, so it panders well, but little else.
Then we come to "Inherent Opprobrium," which without any doubts is the single most boring track of 2012. I have said before that Funeral Doom is not my favorite genre, but I do appreciate enough of the the genre's best practitioners to know tedium when I hear it: "Inherent Opprobrium" tedium incarnate. At a soul-siphoning fifteen minutes and fourteen seconds, it goes absolutely nowhere. Really. The song is spends it's entire run time building up to something, but doesn't bother with any pay-off: no symphony of tortured voices, or cacophony of death knells. No final tortured screams or sudden bursts of Death Metal aggression. It just meanders between riffs and sections, and by the time we reach the ten minute point, the horrifying realization that the song isn't over hits like a sledgehammer to your skull... which might be a preferable outcome to actually finishing the song. Perhaps this is the point of "Inherent Opprobrium," and Netherwards in general: to be punishing and unforgiving in it's boredom. If I had even the slightest inclination that Netherwards was boring and lifeless on purpose, I might be kinder to the album.
No, what we have here instead in flavor of the month genre pandering at it's apex: the story of Death Metal in 2012. Netherwards has all the disparate elements that bring together the various aspects of music in the modern-age: all the Old-School credibility one could ask for, with the lovely cover-art and clearly displayed Old-School influences without any of the timeless aspects that made those classics so wonderful to begin with. Netherwards is an album designed specifically to sell lots of copies the moment it is released and generate lots of hype, but within two years be a completely forgotten piece of "oh yeah, I remember that album" trivia. This is not art: it's a product, tricking listeners into thinking it's more than the sum of it's parts by playing up how "true" it is. But by "true" what they mean is "genre re-hash money generator."
Now, I am not saying that the band Anhedonist themselves are in it for the money: this is Death Metal after all, and there is a good chance that Netherwards is not making the band a single dime because of how brutal label contracts can be. And I have no doubts that Anhedonist are making music they want to make because it's what they like and are passionate about: no doubt the guys in Anhedonist care about their music, because making Extreme Music of any kind is a labor of passion. I also have no doubts that there are a lot of people who genuinely like this album(in fact, I know for a fact their are). My point is that in today's modern scene, an album like Netherwards is the Death Metal equivalent of a movie like Transformers 2 or Avatar: digestible, simplistic, bland product that has all the parts of the real thing, designed to appeal to the masses, at the expense of more creative, inventive and challenging art that encompasses everything great about the medium. Before 2005, an album like Netherwards would have been totally ignored. Now, this is the Savior of the genre I love... apparently.