Translating good taste to tape is an odd quagmire in the highly transformative ever-flowing realm of extreme metal. Less of a genetic anomaly and more a randomized eventuality, the death/thrash metal fan is seemingly destined to express prime old school death metal riffs more often than those fueling death metal with death metal. As much could be said of Athens, Greece death metal trio Gravewards‘ first demo ‘Subconscious Lobotomy’ in 2017, a twisting tower of Lovecraftian design with conjoined interest in technical thrash metal nuance and the brooding rust of Bolt Thrower and early Obituary. You can hear the death/thrash feeding Gravewards‘ machine as it chunks out the sort of death metal Morrisound would have mishandled into infamy back in the early 90’s. Barely two years into their vision ‘Ruinous Ensoulment’ reveals Gravewards as a major contender in the ‘new old school’ of death metal with their thrash-fueled death clangor taking a major leap forward in both attack and distinguished complexity.
The hardcorish semi-groove metal shouts of ‘Subconscious Lobotomy’ from vocalist/guitarist Nikos are replaced with an intensified roar closer to Cancer‘s ‘The Sins of Mankind’. As a composer and guitarist his work is masterful in taking post-‘Human’ technical death metal ideas and funneling that attack through death/thrash cognizant of underground connective tissue between surrealists Chemical Breath and Invocator‘s debut ‘Excursion Demise’. That isn’t to say those are direct influences but that ‘old school’ balance of brutality and relentless semi-technical riffing directs the experience. What Gravewards does can only come from a love of death/thrashing classics. No element of ‘Ruinous Ensoulment’ feels extraneous or placed ‘just because’ and the resulting experience is one of passionate aggression and dynamic performance.
Gnarled and forceful riffing drives Gravewards down a left hand path that knows no ‘default’, it wanders ahead feeling out each progression and inserting interest anywhere possible, much like later Armoured Angel. As often as they court the crushing melodic lilt of Bolt Thrower and dip their quills into the spiky riffing of early Gorefest their UK death metal favorites certainly inform the heavier sections of ‘Ruinous Ensoulment’. The major draw comes with bursts of needled-out thrashing influence a la Aspid and Hellwitch that sneaks in under the radar and over the top of mid-to-fast paced death metal grooves. If you’re a riff enthusiast, ‘Ruinous Ensoulment’ offers a gloriously balanced experience as complex as it is brutally heavy.
The last thing I’d like to lean on is the insistence that Gravewards‘ value lies squarely in the riff department, but the reality is that, that -is- what makes a record like ‘Ruinous Ensoulment’ memorable. Put away your fork, though, Gravewards aren’t serving riff salad so much as their debut puts composition and guitar driven grooves ahead of atmospherics and meaningless movements. There are some touches of ripping black metal, grand melodic swathes, growling bass lunges, and even hits of Resurgency style brutality that drop in here and there; ‘Ruinous Ensoulment’ is a beast that never stops barreling forward with purpose.
Several listens saw a few of the tracks bleeding together and without a massive amount of variation it ‘jogs in place’ holistically, but with no duress upon it’s value as a death metal album. Because I am exactly the right demographic for albums like this, I gave ‘Ruinous Ensoulment’ those many extra listens in theory that any personal hype for it’s content would mellow across the space of a month. The inverse effect occurred as familiarity amplified some greater endearment with the overall production sound, the Apoplexy (Slovakia) like guitar tone, the hollowly shouted vocals, and extensive tanklike song arrangements. Keep in mind I personally lean very heavily towards 80’s/90’s death/thrash and everything in between; So, without that headspace considered it is still a polished and balanced debut album from a death metal project with a knack for thrash-forward cerebral death.
|Released||July 27, 2018|
|BUY/LISTEN on Unspeakable Axe Records’ Bandcamp!||Follow Gravewards on Facebook|
Feed this twisted nature. 4.25/5.0
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