If Denver’s Necropanther has its way, you’ll never look at Logan’s Run the same way again.
The late-’60s novel (and later a feature film) is the tale of a dystopian future where overpopulation has driven society to cull people when they reach the age of 21. It’s also the basis for multi-faceted metal band’s new record, The Doomed City. Joe Johnson, Necropanther's lead guitarist, says the themes of the book — overpopulation, environmental collapse, the rise of totalitarianism — are more pressing than ever today.
“As a mature band, a metal band, that type of story and situation in some ways is kind of quaint and archaic — it came out in 1965 — but in some ways it's really topical, as well,” he says. “It allowed us to explore themes of 'What does rebellion mean when you reach a certain age?' and 'What is the nature of personal risk in the face of authority?’ Obviously we want to leave some room for imagination and interpretation, but I found those to be pretty exciting things to write about and explore and consider.”
Necropanther hit the ground running in 2014, when Johnson answered a Craigslist ad posted by singer/guitarist Paul Anop.
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“I had been looking for a band for quite a while,” says Johnson. “I wanted to find something that was aggressive but melodic. Paul had some demos and I had a few songs, and we sort of swapped licks and went from there.”
The pair hit it off and quickly set out to meld different kinds of metal into something new and exciting, formed around a cinematic nucleus.
“In terms of the overall sound of the band,” says Johnson, “yeah, we definitely want to bring together what you might call the conventional subgenres of underground metal — for us, that’s thrash, black metal and death metal — and do it in a way that is sort of like the themes of the band, where all of our music is sci-fi from the past. Similarly, we're trying to make a forward-looking, fresh take of familiar metal techniques.”
Making a point of melding familiar sounds into something new does have its downside. Johnson says people steeped in particular metal subgenres don’t always know what to make of Necropanther’s alchemy.
“I think certain, maybe hard-core metal fans find that maybe more challenging than the general public,” says Johnson. “All four members of the band on this record wrote both music and lyrics, and we collaborated in different groups, so it's a deliberately diverse and expansive sound. And I think purely in marketing terms, that doesn't do us any favors, as compared to if we had a pigeonholed sound and we just delivered that over and over again.”
But pleasing critics or myopic metal fans, Johnson says, isn’t something Necropanther gives much thought to. Opening up the panoply of heavy music to new congregants is a bigger thrill.
“When I was younger, the reaction I was going for when we played a show was I wanted to be the best guitar player at the show, and the feedback I was looking for was 'You're the best guitar player I've ever heard,’” says Johnson. “That's not what I'm going for anymore. Something that's kind of cool that's my new sort of favorite thing when we play a show is if people come up and say, 'I've never been to a metal show before’ or 'I've never liked metal before, and you're the first metal band that I can connect with and appreciate.' To me that's a sign that we did a good job writing good hooks and delivering that melodicism while remaining aggressive and bringing more people in — being the opposite of an exclusionary type of band.”
More than anything else, Johnson says, Necropanther wants its music to be immersive for whoever hears it.
“We really do have that instrumental format: We have harmonized rhythm guitars, typically harmonized lead guitars, a guitar solo, bass, drums and death vocals,” he says. “You're not going to hear clean singing, you're not going to hear keyboards, and we're going to deliver short-format songs generally, with some type of melodic hook. But other than that, we want to have diversity. We want to be like those classic bands from the past that have records that take you on a journey and tell a story and leave those songs that you're going to be humming or remember the next time we play. That's what we're about.”
When Necropanther set out to create The Doomed City, Johnson says, evolving the band’s sound was paramount. It had made marked changes between its first, self-titled album and its sophomore record, Eyes of Blue Light, so the stakes were high.
“We had some material kicking around, because everyone in the band writes material,” says Johnson. “We had four guys, with four song ideas each, and it's like, what are we going to cut to be able to make this into a record? We really wanted to show that, even with the expansion and growth between the first two records, that that wasn't a fluke, that we continue to do that, continue to grow and expand our sound.”
The plan was simple, according to Johnson: Stay organized.
“We do tend to think about it in terms of a program,” says Johnson. “So we have ideas about what the future records are going to be. We have a process that we go through to figure out what we want the theme to be, what songs go in and in what order, what our production concept is going to be about, and the types of techniques and sounds, textures that we would want to get on that album. Even though we've only done that three times, we are pretty mature and organized in what our process is, and we're just going to follow the process.”
Having a full stable of apt musicians, he says, helps the process along.
“I think a key to it starts with the songwriting,” says Johnson, “and having the multiple songwriters. Those combinations naturally make us prolific, naturally lend themselves to different combinations that are going to give us different sounds and new ideas.”
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In every sense, Johnson says, the band hit its mark with The Doomed City.
“In terms of the sound of the record, I think it's darker, denser, maybe more thrash- or rock-oriented, from a texture point of view,” he says. “I'm really proud of the fact that everybody's voice and everybody's performance comes across great, and I'm really proud of the fact that it shows, as a program with our other records, that we're going to continue to grow and expand as a band every time we make a record.”
Necropanther plays a release show for its new album, The Doomed City, at 8 p.m. Saturday, November 9, at the hi-dive, 7 South Broadway. Tickets are $10.
Hear Necropanther and more favorites from Westword writers on our Westword Staff Picks playlist.