It took a long time to sit down and crack this intimidating record open, and while it doesn’t surpass the related Impetuous Ritual’s entwined death-fit the doom Grave Upheaval finally let seep from their long sealed tomb is stifling, fetid, onerous and exhausting.
The impenetrable nature of this record is almost perverse. A result of this is it marks it as an easy album to either ignore as ‘boring’ or claim to be unstoppable gold. While it’s not necessarily either at all points I would not diminish it’s staggering presence. This thrills in a subtle, time consuming manner — it’s labeled by some as ritualistic for reason.
I’m significantly satisfied by what Grave Upheaval have put down here. I was honestly a little afraid I would be disappointed but that was not the case. They are confidently plotting new and more interesting forms using the current blackened-death-doom dance, and the efforts have born well.
Grave Upheaval’s enigmatic ritual style kills through attrition moreso than ever on their long awaited LP, especially when considering the presence of bass (both from the low tuning and the actual instrument) in every second shaking shit down in tandem with the slow flaying by guitars, let alone the vivid and monstrous percussion and wraithlike vocals.
The approach is far better performed as well as conceived and executed than, for instance, Encoffination’s minimalist doom. They manage to do much in their humid darkness more while splitting their creative efforts between some of the bigger named projects in crawling horror and still keep each one distinct.
So on this nameless record I finally had the chance to consume the complete form of early sounds I had heard first live in 2011 during Rites of Darkness III, and which stuck with me strongly. The core of this record is composed of them, these murky death-doom rituals that strike me delirious just as quickly so long after I was dragged agonizingly through them in Texas.
Track three is an example of what I first heard on stage in Texas, the slow trudge here more coherent and doom centric as the ritual expands in turmoil. The opening seconds are practically incomprehensible but then the slow, muffled hatred builds on that rhythm, mutating to an even muddier version when the spectral vocals launch.
Another is the song to directly follow it (track four) which I only realized about halfway through when a thick, unstable series of hammer blows appear that stuck out then and now. Hearing these kinds of moments on such a nice piece of vinyl or even on bandcamp for that matter is certainly pleasurable in some primal sense. Strike after strike this section buries me.
The background is interwoven and impenetrable layers of guitar and bass scraping away, the minimal percussion and coarse howls, and a truly eerie injection of chants or ‘auns’ which sound more east asian or or straight out of Shigurui’s soundtrack than ancient occult tomb.
This is a major element of this track and it amplifies the grueling nature made disturbing already due to how severely slow it is. It was also unexpected to be honest but not entirely out of place for sure. The drumming, especially the waves of cymbals at choice points enthralls further and when the dive-bombed notes slowly descend later, the measured tumble combines to make a truly twisted series of textures.
It’s a small aspect of what makes Grave Upheaval quite enticing and indeed marks them differently than the counterparts, impressing in a similar dimension but through a different spectrum. They make use of this augmentation well and sparingly.
Now, it is obvious that outside of the purposeful impervious composition and production whats going on will not floor everyone, potentially even fans of the style. It’s less ‘complex’ riff-wise (though layered) and luring than Impetuous Ritual, and unless you’re already familiar with some of this from live performances or put in a little time soaking in the filth this record will not lend itself to easy listening.
You can in fact, if a fan of discord and depravity, draw huge enjoyment from any song here though. Moments like the dirge in the second track on side A. The slow decay of the massive riff, penetrated by bass, as it spirals into a delirious loop. There’s no denying right there that few other acts do that better even in their own circle.
Another example: the sixth installment on the second side uses staggered volleys, again with minor changes in these moments to the percussion that stand out and even help make more vivid the crushing rhythms that are so soiled it can be distracting. This is another example of a song I heard at ROD III:
When you finally make the brutal journey side C, things get even more demanding. This is one of the last songs I heard while attending ROD III Track seven is a ten minute smothering with soil and blood. It’s not hard to make out once you’ve been exposed to it multiple times. The erosion in the form of low, low tremolos from all stringed instruments descends for an immeasurable distance.
The drowning is briefly interrupted by a sudden intensification of percussion only to be let go into a chunky clubbing, closer to what was heard on previous tracks. This is only for a moment and a new raw path is etched that leads into previously touched nerves. Once you’re in the middle of this ritual the speed up on a returned two or three notes is oppressive.
Now this would be the final song in the record on the regular version, but the version I and other have has a bonus track that reaches the same plane of sluggish death the last one did.
The churning between two huge notes and the slow build of the drumming, no vocal presence all adds to a creeping anxiety this song mounts. As this slowly develop a metallic whining on the higher note, as the cymbals crash, slowly builds and gets added to by the guitars as they mold the riff with each cycle.
Things get more clear right in the last leap when for a moment that sledge hammer comes back, then the riff is altered for good, deeper than ever and progressively returning to a muddy, archaic state.
It’s not a record that many people even in the metal community would listen to regularly like one might for a classic Cryptopsy record, and its even more dark and uncomfortable than Antediluvian’s time devouring formula so it’s understandable it might be an odd one out.
Again while it may not blow minds like Impetuous Ritual and their developing recordings I myself enjoy this on the same level but for different reasons. Arguably you could get a lot of the same feeling of ancient dread and loathing from either if you didn’t want to split the attention, but you’d be missing out on something great from Grave Upheaval.
In the end its a monumental album that I’m loving as I grow more familiar with it. I find it more permeable (or less uncomfortable) on each listen, more enjoyable and consistent than other examples of the style and their vile trudge better expressed in this new release than in prior ones. I encourage fans of dark and morose death and doom metal to spend a little time with this risen monstrosity.
The record is still available at Nuclear War Now! Productions on bandcamp and in physical form. The Diehard version is sold out but that shouldn’t deter you from grabbing this on black wax.
The Diehard version is on two red cuts of vinyl with grey-ish or mossy black swirls that create a dark and murky red/black overall. The photography and art both on the cover and the booklet/gatefold interior is shrouded and faded purposefully. The branded wooden case is heavy and solid, while the flag is killer as well (I didn’t put it up yet).