GRAFJAMMER – De Zoute Kwel (2020)REVIEW

On all fours in the grime of Utrecht, our bellies dragging on cobblestones slicked with sea water, half-digested slumgullion and shit, creeping up with knives between our teeth. — Over the course of thirteen years, five which’d been formative as a studio project, it is the grime of the low countries and their own hanging guts that collects beneath Grafjammer‘s body of work thus far. Formed in 2007 the project would become an outright band in 2012 before eventually finding their identity in the self-dubbed “primitieve nederlandstalige necrorock” category just beyond the first album (‘Koud Gemaakt‘, 2015) that is to say that they’ve found meaningful linkage between the crust punk-kicked speed metallic first wave and the blazing reap of early Scandinavian second wave black metal since. The vast world of blackened metalpunk needn’t require brutal slotting of its primeval acts into too specific categorization, what makes Grafjammer special isn’t that they’ve needled out the right balance of stylistic indication but that they’ve kept the fiery songwriting of their influences intact and simply worn their own bloody skin over it. Their third album, ‘De Zoute Kwel’, is the seepage of the night across the city where the zealous, the criminal, the suicidal and the misanthropic come out to slink in the shadows of Amsterdam.

Historical obscenities, a celebration of self-harm, and neck-slashing nighttime knife-happy killers all feed into what has been a strong fixation on place for the Utrecht based band; That is to say that the hidden scum, treachery and brutality that’d historically arisen in Utrecht and the Amsterdam area sets the city and society as the major point of examination in mind. One could see this as a grotesque set of ‘evil’ meditations for the sake of glorifying mayhem but I view Grafjammer‘s point of view as equalizing — Sure, we know how ‘enlightened’ these places are in the minds of millions but the horrors that were necessary to get there, alongside everyday death and insanity, is the rest of the picture. To fully appreciate the consistency of this vision or, greater statement of fallible heritage (intentional or not), it is necessary to gain the provenance of the quintet’s second album (‘Schalm & Schabauw‘, 2018) which I’ve some nostalgia for even after a couple of years. Grafjammer were one of the first independent bands to send in material for review on the site back then and their fusion of crust/hardcore punk hits with a moody black metal skeleton was a highlight at the time. ‘De Zoute Kwel’ basically addresses my criticisms or, the hope they would “develop a more ‘blended’ vision of their melodic style of black metal with heavy punk elements”. In hindsight I wouldn’t say their style was distinctly melodic but that they had a hint of auld Swedish black metal working alongside the 2000’s Darkthrone and early Carpathian Forest influences that were suggested on their first record. The way I see it Grafjammer still had their shoulders up on the second record, anxietous and needing to hit their point of view as hard as possible; For this third album they’ve an air of capability, confidence in letting each piece swerve dynamically through the torment assigned.

Practically speaking ‘De Zoute Kwel’ is primarily a black metal album with some key points of focus highlighted by their always intense hardcore and crust punk influences. These are not only interpreted by the black metalpunk influences available since the dawn of black metal but also take directly from the greats of British and Scandinavian punk that’d influenced extreme metal more than anything else. That doesn’t mean opener “Jajempriester” sounds like The Exploited but it does put a ‘Beat the Bastards’-sized spin on what I’d consider a blackened street punk arrangement. This is where I have been most excited about Grafjammer in the past, I think they’ve a real knack for landing those forceful and rhythmically intense pieces and they never “dumb down” the punk influences for the sake of posturing or readability. Good punk music is rarely stupid and well, good metalpunk shouldn’t be either. An ethos of impact, not conservatism but efficiency, bleeds into the band’s primary focus upon black metal songs which all revolve around a variety of subtle and not-at-all subtle hooks. These catchier moments typically amount to clever rhythm guitar progressions with a healthy variety of influential factors, which range from French black metal to Motörhead and beyond. “De Bijlman Van Trecht” is an ideal, easy to digest example of this reality as Grafjammer combine a grind heavy hit to start before quickly sliding into its primary rhythmic hook, embodying both sophisticated black metal and envenomed metalpunk within a very simple set of riffs. If that isn’t sharp enough up front, the last third of “Affreus. Infaam. Abject.” posits how some Dissection-esque austerity might fold into their sound, for my own taste this works incredibly well. The major takeaway from Side A is man, these guys have put in the work in the interim and found the right places to expand and improve upon without losing that gnashing, feral edge integral to the Grafjammer way.

As for the second half of the experience we begin to tread into the darkest imagery and the most adventurous pieces on the record as cohorts. Whichever half “De bakboordshand” lands on, its blending of squeezebox and straining lumber paints the first of several bloody (or burnt) pictures for us going forward. “De Kinderen Branden” is one of the most broadly stroked songs on the album, leaning into a slower doomed pace and iterating upon the main riff as the piece slowly picks up the pace. The song itself really centers around the folkish hop n’ solo verve near the end, emphasizing this sense that Grafjammer are becoming less “mindless” with each release and not merely filling the air with tons of notes. When pieces are stripped to their most essential parts and given direction they begin to sound more personality rich as the details fill in more carefully. I suppose this leans us readily into the primary juxtaposition of the past melding in the future, where pieces like “Maak Het Kort”, “Bijbelgordelgesel”, and “Jajempriester” continue this bloodline of emphatic punk influence while keeping things filth-ridden and ominous for the sake of broad oeuvre rather than the convenience of simplicity. Sure, considering the innards and fineries of style loses sight of substance in this case but it is worth something to say that ‘De Zoute Kwel’ holds up as a ripping, heavy and adrenaline-stabbed record even if you’ve not a single notion of its themes and lyrics. Normally I’d dig into these sorts of macabre tales but I’d felt I was missing the context of knowing certain historical realities of their region and Dutch folklore in general. Grafjammer have found their best selves while exploring the sewers and back alleys of Utrecht throughout history and within fable, thusly I’ve found their latest album inspired and a welcome driver of curiosity for the unsettling setting of their craft. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:De Zoute Kwel
LABEL(S):Folter Records
RELEASE DATE:December 18th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Folter Shop [EU]
GENRE(S):Black Metal,
Black Metalpunk

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