GRAVE MIASMA – Abyss of Wrathful Deities (2021)REVIEW

Lying down surrounded by his lamenting friends and relatives he, with the noose of time around his neck, cannot respond to the things said to him. He, who was engrossed in maintaining his family and had no control over his senses, thus passes away in great pain, with his relatives in tears. Witnessing the arrival of the servants of death with their terrible eyes full of wrath, he, because of the fear in his heart, passes stool and urine. Like the king’s soldiers they immobilize his body by binding him in ropes for his punishment, whereupon they drag him like a criminal forcefully by the neck over a long distance.Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Canto III, Chapter 30

Kālakūṭa churned from the Ocean of Milk, gripped in place by two hands, held within the bruised throat of the auspicious one. Awakening from the poisoned sleep of a half-decade, atrophied and electrified by the searing pain of age, this permanently soiled entity is risen unsure if their torpor will relent beyond torturous, careful movement. In presentation of their second full-length album London, England based death metal trio Grave Miasma shake loose years of characterizing decay from rotten chords and bloodless flesh knowing there is no reversal of time, intending no retread of previous pathways as they shed all embalmment. ‘Abyss of Wrathful Deities‘ is itself an hour-long wind of voluminous chaos whistling up the gullet of abyss, ringing with the vague signature of ominous occult death metal endowed by the curvature of newly distressed majesty. The time has passed for expectations of iteration now that eight years are spread between two pillars, this second erection bears little obligation beyond a resurrection worth celebrating, yet the artist provides a suffocating overindulgence of iteration nonetheless, seemingly meant to purify their followers of any lingering ‘progressive’ hope — This blanket of heated, lung-bursting atmospheric death solidifies their legacy first and foremost.

Well, that’ll sound a bit serious for a bestial black/death band who’d started out with the name Goat Molestör back in 2002. From my perspective the beginnings of this project more or less speak to the lack of any serious expectations beyond representing a doomed war metal/blackened death idealism when they’d started out. Their first demo under this name wasn’t at all the status quo for a group of Londoners and though ‘Ancient Barbaric Assault‘ (2003) would be casually received today the band built a reputation quickly for their brutality, soon releasing the demo on CD in 2004 and then as a split alongside Necros Christos‘ third demo ‘Black Mass Desecration’ in 2005. When their first 7″ (‘Realm of Evoked Doom‘, 2005) impressed the world over it was time for a name change and, I guess you’ll have to understand the context of that era which involved the revelation of bands like Dead Congregation as enormous ripples in the underground, several years before a larger wave of bestial atmospheric death metal would hit a choke point around 2009-2010. There weren’t a million and one bands in this style to start. That 7″ would eventually be re-released under the Grave Miasma name circa 2010 as a compilation following the (again) well received ‘Exalted Emanation‘ (2009), these releases contain the sound the band is best known for and usually viewed by association with Cruciamentum not only for the sake of related style but for their sharing a drummer well into the previous decade. I was not personally convinced there was anything particularly notable about this band until their debut full-length (‘Odori Sepulcrorum‘, 2013) landed fairly high on my best of the year list. Even though they’d inarguably found their voice on prior releases this had been the one that channeled atmosphere from all fonts between its artwork, lyrics, sound design, and style which read as “caverncore” to the complacent and an unholy atmospheric death metal event to most. Even the quickest glance at that first album’s cover art calls for a ride within its intense immersive qualities and spiraling trails of atmodeath riffs. From there it seems the project experienced some level of dissociation or incompatibility, an interruption in spiritus that’d left a long silence beyond what’d been an exciting debut album.

In retrospect of even less than ten years ago, the higher quality acts of the underground were always careful to avoid oversaturation of style to the point of endless trend, if only for the sake of not obligating constant releases to stay visible and meaningfully applied. Today the diarrhea of extreme metal is unending and desperately untalented en masse so, excuse the dramatic positioning of a long wait between quality releases from a band who won’t necessarily stand out in a ‘cheap and loud’ manner. ‘Endless Pilgrimage‘ arrived in 2016 for the sake of documenting a deeper spiritual mutation within Grave Miasma‘s purpose, there was conflict within that release that’d served its brutally “present” production values well as the band seemed to be battling the expectation of reverb-leavened atmosphere versus clarity of statement. By current standards it could function as a second full-length, breaching the half hour mark and presenting an evolution beyond the debut. In fact, I consider it their best work in terms of where a new listener should start in grasping the unique character of the trio’s permutation of style, which isn’t really black metal or even notably blackened so much as it is cacophonic death largely framed by ringing dissonance between major movements. ‘Abyss of Wrathful Deities’ pushes directly upon this characteristic in formulating a new extreme for the Grave Miasma sound, deepening those dissonant structural prefixes into a wall of billowing and bounding reverberation rather than a forceful act. To some it will read as less directly heavy in the traditional death metal sense and to others it will be a boon of fresh movement for thier style. My own take lands somewhere in the middle due to appreciating ‘Endless Pilgrimage’ so much more within the hindsight that five years of contemplation allows and for the sake of ‘Abyss of Wrathful Deities’ being a dirge at an hour long.

Eight times in a row and without any thought put into the action, I hit the pause button on this album after the seventh track, “Interlude”, finished playing. Perhaps this is a symptom of always keeping a tightly wound “to do” list and preparing myself with post-listen analysis checks as part of the reviewing process but my mind had naturally taken a break just as the album hit its ~45 minute mark. This interruption doesn’t have to be meaningful yet it did function to cut the listening experience off at the ankles several times, pausing before the final two songs and their assigned fifteen minutes serve as a strong finale. Shaking the nagging feeling that these last fifteen minutes were in essence redundant or extraneous ends up being an irksome note upon what was/is a generally brilliant listening experience. The question of ‘Abyss of Wrathful Deities’ having its say before warranting a double LP experience is debatable even when swinging deep within what is a loosely conveyed thematic linking Tibetan Buddhist thought on death and “afterlife”, examining sky burial directly (“Rogyapa”) alongside concepts of resurrection and the way of the flesh… all of which presents a fascinatingly morbid spectacle that indirectly focuses the subject of the album towards spirituality based heavily upon the concept of impermanence. The prose that drives meaning into each Grave Miasma release is impeccably written and cohesive in voice save for the slight shift on “Ancestral Waters”, which was at least partially written by former guitarist R. whom provides what they are considering session performances on this record. Vocalist/guitarist Y.‘s lyrical work excels even beyond the high point of ‘Endless Pilgrimage’ often saying more with less or leaving plenty of room for myriad lead guitar work which acts as its own serious nod to classic death metal forms and the forever underground feeling this album bleeds deeply of.

If it appears as if I am blowing smoke, shaping clouds, avoiding the classic death metal forms entirely in this case then I’ve conveyed the experience of immersion within ‘Abyss of Wrathful Deities’ better than hoped. The only way to simplify what Grave Miasma have done here is essentially “atmospheric death metal with riffs” and even that sounds a bit plain compared to its reality. Lightning-whipped ‘old school’ whammy diving leads, body scattering drum performances and plenty of uniquely bent rhythmic changes (“Kingdoms Beyond Kailash”) fill the impossibly large space the album’s production and overall rendering exists within, this easily justifies their choice to work with revered engineer/producer Jaime Gomez Arellano, known for working with everyone from Ghost and Angel Witch to Hooded Menace and Oranssi Pazuzu in recent years. Yet it remains on the table that those choices emphasize an enormous atmospheric presence rather than the weight of the instrumentals themselves in some small majority, recalling the bestial cacophony of the early 2010’s personae of the band prior to the more compressed and traditional clobber of ‘Endless Pilgrimage’. There is a compromise made here between classic death metal violence and the sensation of weightlessness which ultimately pays off in appreciation of the whole listen. Those seeking a chest caving riff-obsessed death metal album won’t find an exact match but Grave Miasma have not ignored the necessity of rhythm guitar weight, only repurposed it into something bigger than before.

What forms in mind across countless hours of listening is perhaps the exact right vision for an album dealing with ancient mysticism on life and death, a crossing of volcanic spires rising from below and treacherously high clouds above; The molten ferality of black-edged death metal sets as the centerpiece within sky-obscuring clouds, carrion birds, and toxic smoke from below. “Rogyapa” embodies this arrangement of pillar and haze ideally to start but the central point of focus for this first half of the album is ultimately the most solid, riff-focused pieces, such as “Erudite Decomposition”. Patiently developed via repetition as it is, gaining its voice nearing the halfway point, this song communicates to the listener that the reward comes with engaged patience rather than instantly gratifying brutality. “Demons of the Sand” likewise stands out as one of the better songs on the album, with the exception of the closer, for the sake of it transitioning slickly between several modes of expression and communicating the greater landscape of the album succinctly. There is no wonder that it’d felt like the endpoint of the tracklist to start as ‘Demons of the Sand” completes the circle of intent laid out within prior tracks and precedes the only point of respite in the full listen. “Kingdoms Beyond Kailash” is fittingly both the ending and the finest piece of the hour despite some of the phrasal redundancies previously mentioned, it reads as a logical frayed end to the experience.

All actions within ‘Abyss of Wrathful Deities’ have been purposefully evolved into a fluid state via iteration rather than leaps made via conceptual cut-and-pasting, they are not accessible movements but they are knowable and enjoyable as haunting and often intricate displays of death metal mastery. The part of my brain that wants little more than endless strings of inventive death metal riffing is entirely pleased as this album hits some of the same value as Temple Nightside‘s most recent record (‘Pillars of Damnation’) albeit using a slightly different, less traditional guitar language for verse-by-verse riff progression. From a state of puzzled bliss I walk away from this second Grave Miasma record more thrilled by its ideals, the non-traditional colliding with the traditional with death and impermanence as a gilding meditation, yet I am surprisingly not as satisfied as I was before the mystification of its atmospheric rendering had cleared away in mind. The record itself is a work of art via talented Brazilian illustrator Ars Moriendee whom you will recognize for these cryptic deities with eyes via recent Majestic Downfall and Glorious Depravity album covers. The piece itself conveys the imposing furnace that ‘Abyss of Wrathful Deities’ presents but does not entirely reveal the elaborate themes tucked within. Though Grave Miasma haven’t clung to my mind and stuck upon me directly with this release the time spent with their second album was yet redeeming in value. All details align, the sound and character of the band persists within an evolved state, and the full listen holds up quite well to uncounted listens without drying out or droning on without statement. I am left with more questions, more that could be learned from this album over time and this is where I’ll bank on some lasting redeeming value in the future. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Abyss of Wrathful Deities
LABEL(S):Dark Descent Records,
Sepulchral Voice Records
RELEASE DATE:May 14th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Death Metal

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