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This is one of those reviews where I have to begin by talking about the album cover. I mean, what the hell is it?! I might draw some comparison between a maimed octopus, a satanic bunny-rabbit with a piece of broccoli for a head, but that wouldn’t aptly describe how strange it is. Although an album title like “Too Gruesome to be Real” can be hard to take seriously, the album art puts you in a state of unease before you even press play. To my cautious joy, the music of Virginian avant-metal band Bone Fragments fits this sense of the macabre and absurd perfectly. The aesthetic of horror films and gothic fiction has never been a stranger to the realms of black and death metal, but I’m rarely in a position to directly compare an album to the sort of campy dread the old horror flicks induce. It’s hurt by some clear weaknesses in the execution, but Bone Fragments’ second album is a trip, and quite a scary trip it is.
We enter “Too Gruesome to be Real” through the front door. Much like a well-focused horror film, it begins on a calm yet unsettling atmosphere. “Lurid Dream” is purely keyboard-oriented, with strange synth pads that are sure to creep out an unsuspecting listener. With the pocket-sized epic “Count Bludwig” however, Bone Fragments lay all of their cards on the table in plain sight. The guitar riffs are decidedly black metal, with a particular focus on the sort of tritonic chord progressions and melodies that one might hear from the Norwegian scene. The vocals- provided here by one Lord Unfortunate- are deep growls, the likes of which I’d be less surprised to hear on a death metal or funeral doom release. The element that arguably gives Bone Fragments their ‘avant’ flair is the ‘symphonic’ aspect. The term ‘symphonic black metal’ has earned an association with cheese for me; too many bands attempt to earn the label by adding a tinny, budget keyboard to make things prettier. Many of the synths on “Too Gruesome to be Real” are certainly tinny, but they only serve to create a sense of playful horror. The guitar riffs are very reminiscent of Emperor, but the band I find myself most reminded of here are Tartaros, the crazy Norwegian outfit that released the frightening “Grand Psychotic Castle” EP.
‘Psychotic’ is certainly the word to describe the sound on Bone Fragments, although there’s also the sense that the band aren’t trying to take themselves too seriously with it. After all, with song titles like “Clawtooth the Octobunny” (oh, so that’s what the creature’s called!) any listener should be able to tell that the ‘campy’ atmosphere is well-intended. It is interesting music overall, although the execution is where Bone Fragments struggle the most. The compositions have been well thought-out, and though the band’s technical chops are up to speed with the music, “Too Gruesome to be Real” suffers from an amateurish production. It’s granted that much black metal tends to be less-than-stellar in this regard, but a dull sense of recording does nothing for the music’s atmosphere. Tormentor’s bass work is barely audible in the mix, and the drum recording of Skeleton-Toucher (an amazing pseudonym, if I might add!) lacks the sort of power I’m sure it had in the live performance.
Bone Fragments’ weak production seems to be what holds them back here. In most other regards, “Too Gruesome to be Real” is an excellent piece of extreme metal- perhaps a little difficult to first get into, but a pleasure to behold once a listener puts in a few spins. Check them out!