Every persisting black metal fan has some point of puncture where cursory interest found worthy idolatry and for most the chaotic smokescreen that raw black metal provides acts as a dam of understanding, a purposefully obscured clangor that is anti-consumerist by design and anti-music in statement. These ‘true’ black metal movements are not always for the sake of regression or ‘hipster’ exclusivity but rather for the sake of purification of influence and clarity of purpose. Unhinged guitar performances, noisome experimentation, and lo fi quality have long translated to many black metal circles worldwide from Finland and France to todays grating, barbed whips of Portuguese black metal. Each of theses scenes have provided a lasting standout from the persistent majesty of Horna and Clandestine Blaze to the esoteric howls of Mütiilation and beyond. In terms of Portugal’s current blackened circles Graves immediately stands out among their rawer-than-thou peers Vetala, Nefastu, and Irae thanks to an emphasis on ornate yet abrupt guitar performances. Formed in 2017 by ex and current members of Summon, Flagellum Dei and the greater Lisbon area black metal scene, Graves sets aside their established professional collective knowledge for an intentionally blurred and ruinous black metal ritual so capably raw that their mind-scraping affect is almost too roughly achieved to appreciate. ‘Liturgia da Blasfémia’ is one step beyond sense, a scream in defiance of humanity after a fall from a high place, and all the more interesting for the impenetrable wall it builds between itself and the listener.
For my own taste it was probably ‘A Blaze in the Northern Sky’ that first opened those mental gates to the wider spectrum of raw black metal ideas, though it was a point of history that’d suggest I’d unwittingly overlooked the (then) current ‘next level’ of that dedication displayed by the Les Légions Noires sect, who’d reached prime surface notoriety at the time. Though Graves cite greater raw movements as inspiration for their trios output ‘Liturgia da Blasfemia’ is only related by non-existant production values, grating fidelity, and only moderately precise performances. This is no Katharsis clone nor could you point to Sargeist (maybe Musta Surma, though?) for comfort in wrangling the greater scope of their work and therein lies the conundrum of Graves‘ discography: I am not sure what solidifies this bands voice between the trio of releases they’ve put out so far. The ‘Unholy Desecration’ (2018) demo was dried blood upon blade in Satanic service, a culling rage that was as strikingly raucous as it was rote in terms of the greater history of raw black metal, thus a fitting ancestor for ‘Liturgia da Blasfémia’, but then a confounding variable hit my inbox in between releases.
War Arts Productions, a dedicated Portuguese black metal outlet and label sent me a demo tape meant to bridge that gap; I lost a small part of my mind listening to the ‘Ascensão do Impiedoso’ (January 18, 2019) demo and there was no turning back from that point. I loved this hidden piece of Graves‘ history that’d passed under the radar without mention. Still raw and violent but unnerving in its semi-melodic movements it was immediately clear that the 33 minute demo (which I’ve still not seen mentioned anywhere) is actually superior to the experience offered by the equally long ‘Liturgia da Blasfémia’ in terms of fidelity, atmosphere, and performance. Perhaps that is why these recordings made it out as the debut for Graves; ‘Liturgia da Blasfemia’ is ugly and loud, a roaring and impassioned call to power for the impious and writ as true death worship. Those more prone to the cathartic side of black metal should grab ‘Ascensão do Impiedoso’ before they disappear, though.
‘Liturgia da Blasfémia’ is performed primarily in Portuguese though a quick glance should reveal a lyrical focus upon the torture and crucifixion of Christ in Golgotha. It is a mockery made doubly glorious in this display of Graves‘ vicious spirit as these obeisances in defiance of Christianity are satisfying for both their seriousness and the moderately impenetrable layer of the Portuguese language. Harsh and echoing vocal effects, dusty guitar reverb and very direct drum performances do more than suggest raw black metal values but this lo fi approach doesn’t entirely box Graves into stylistic niche. The crackling excess of it all is not pleasant though ‘Liturgia da Blasfémia’ is grand in its wailing, rasping attitude. The experience is unbalanced, eruptive, loose, gnarled and grotesque in its violent message just as black metal is meant to be but there is reprieve in the second half of the record; “Do teu Ventre a Maldade saiu” and “Minha Alma imolei em Golgota” both set their sights upon dramatic pieces that pull in some of the early French and Finnish influences the band suggests. If you’re curious why I was so focused on the finer qualities of ‘Ascensão do Impiedoso’ demo then I’d suggest “Graves Hold Your Name” makes it very clear why with its semi-melodic, searching guitar lines. This second half of the record is where I warmed to the experience of this debut and appreciated the raw and glaring buzz of Graves sound the most.
The swap between this full-length and the demo tape released in January this year is still a confounding point for my tastes. I want ‘Ascensão do Impiedoso’ on vinyl and that yearning constantly served as a distraction for the raw, bumbling fury of ‘Liturgia da Blasfémia’ and I’d taken several more weeks of time to avoid that confounding variable. Ultimately it was difficult to approach this debut from Graves objectively. I felt it was not as aligned with my own tastes as ‘Ascensão…’ was and my own preference for style will inevitably affect my recommendation and rating. It is a fine debut all the same and I can give moderately high recommendation to it, Graves are yet one of the more impressive raw black metal newcomers out of Portugal in recent years. For preview I’d suggest starting with “Do teu Ventre a Maldade saiu”, my favorite track on the album, and then “I am Fire, I am Death” for the best introduction.
Eyes of fire, tongue lashing death. 3.75/5.0
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