The untamable hammer swings. — Hypnotized by the trauma of their ever ante-upping stream of bloody exploits, clutching the gaseous writhe of the necrotizing flesh filling their guts and wearing an awful grin, our mayhemic crew of flesh-eating bastards squirm loose their corpse-baked contents in perfect piles of sinew-pocked night soil on this third full-length album. Caves painted in crap, worm-riddled stew stirred with a still yellow femur, the uncivil stench of the primitive veneer which Helsingborg, Sweden-based death metal quartet Bastard Grave wears does a fine job of charging the senses with repulsion before the intelligent grinding of the machine reveals its sophisticated pollution of ‘old school’ forms unto ominous, horrified presence. This predatorial club-wielder does not stalk its prey, though, ‘Vortex of Disgust‘ flushes out its catch by intimidation: Grooves inherent to their maniac interiors hurtle as if traditional Swedish death metal wares yet we soon find ourselves immersed in a more imposing register, a worldly rhythmic design informed by more than the hardcore punk and thrashed whirr of the late 80’s unto an infamous territorial beast, soon renowned for its prolific slaughter.
From the moment their 2014 demo tape (‘Unmarked Graves‘) hit it was clear that this 2012 north-from-Malmö formed crew had the right idea when it came to playing classic late 80’s Swedish death metal of a certain kind, of course it wasn’t staunchly “retro”, the melodic voicing available to the band on certain early pieces suggested a need for more than basal forms and brutal riffs. The important thing to pull from early Bastard Grave releases was a knack for primitive grooves, some love for blunted maniac acts of ’87-’92. This’d all become much more clear as a vision, their own thing, when their second full-length album ‘Diorama of Human Suffering‘ released back in 2019. At that point there was a grinding snap to their rhythms brought in by a new second guitarist, punk informed riffs that’d bounded and grooved into an abyss of many different Scandinavian death metal influences. I’d covered a lot of this in my review of the album at the time, giving the record high marks while badgering on about unrelated things. That was the big fealty-builder, the one where Bastard Grave became a known face in my mind and as a result I’d been anticipating where they’d go with ‘Vortex of Disgust‘.
This third full-length finds the band leaning slightly less technical and even more atmospherically charged, allowing greater emphasis on the varietal knotted-up feel of their riffcraft but also allows the vocals to take charge a bit more often. Though their approach avoids presenting a ‘Necroticism…‘-level tact their greater groove-riddled path is generally in line with how classics-conscious traditional death metal continues to evolve. Though they’ve unfortunately traded out the d-beat kicked pieces expected in a follow up to ‘Diorama of Human Suffering‘ the trade-off is a focus on imposing, hallucinatory mid-jog grinds which have a weirding edge which fans of Cerebral Rot and Undergang will immediately appreciate. This slight stylistic shift comes with two big changes which enhance the experience in a profound way, the first is obvious enough as more precise render (by way of Greg Wilkinson @ Earhammer Studio) allows the band’s rhythmic focus to read crisply, as much as I’d enjoyed the more ancient feeling of Ulf Blomberg’s work on the previous album (he engineers the drum recordings here) the outcome here generally reads as an enhancement. The other big change comes with new vocalist Tiago Das (Wölfblood) who does an excellent job of commanding these brutally churning events from a central point. His deeper, imposing growl does a lot to push the severity of certain pieces a step further and this is again enhanced by the production values setting him in equally important station as the two guitarists.
Much of these observations will read as minutiae beyond the implication that ‘Vortex of Disgust‘ is more of an experience compared to the worming death-dirge that ‘Diorama of Human Suffering‘ introduced, this is moreso a case of deeper valleys and greater highs overall. Opener “Sunder the Earth” takes us right back to that jogged-at mayhem up front, a set of quick-changed riffs which wriggle up from the dung-slathered concrete and get into it quick with what I’d consider signature Bastard Grave stomp with remnants of punk rhythms leading their deceptively adept shambling. “Icon Bearer” seems to be on the same tip, seeking out clear cut riffs which reveal their progression in one or two stages before cranking the speed into another mode or interrupting the thread with a weirding flourish, a flick at a warped run which gives a demented flair to their movement. Each of those first two songs reveal a big sort of “breakdown” moment where the riff implied comes to full fruition at a full-rolling pace. This ends up feeling tighter wound, more precisely pecked-at strings of riffs written both for effect and for the nauseated character they build. “Necrotic Ecstasy” introduces the first of several doomed atmospheric sections on the full listen as its second half dissociates, leading into the death/doom cavern-dive that introduces “Consumed and Forgotten”. Side A certainly has a few too-familiar riffs, moments which feel somewhat standard but this adds to the ‘old school’ death metal feeling implied within the entirety of the full listen.
You know their rhythmic language, the atmosphere has revealed its surrealistic horrors, and an Autopsy-esque strange is in full glow as the second half of the experience tasks itself with finding catchier pockets of interest through variation. Side B leans into doomed, slower pieces and big grooves which fall in line with the more frantic opening moments of ‘Vortex of Disgust‘, the apex of this development being the title track which closes the album. For my own taste Bastard Grave are at their best when crossing their Macabre End-esque take on Swedish death with the doom-paced side of things. Though I’d initially preferred the more active kick of the first half of the record I’d found “Eternal Decomposition” and “Nameless Horror” hitting hardest as I skated past ten plus full listens. The more time I’d spent with this record the more I’d appreciated the step it takes beyond the previous record while retaining some of the signature built therein. Though they’ve eased off of the number of riffs per minute overall by my count this goes a long way towards a more fleshed out, intensified experience. A high recommendation.
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