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No other scene in the entire planet in metal history was heavier and more extreme than the old continent’s in the 80’s – from Teutonic death/thrash to the obscure, unjustifiably-overlooked Polish circuit, not to mention the malicious acts of the mature NWOBHM. All the above-mentioned movements however started faltering as the apocalyptic 90’s arrived, being followed by black and death’s second lease of life in Scandinavia. If you think of the Swedish death metal revival, 2 names will surely come to your mind unequivocally: Grave and Tomas Skogsberg. The combination of both talents on the band’s earliest works pointed at the direction this specific musical movement should be following in the next 5 years. Into The Grave was undoubtedly one of the seminal Swedish albums of the early-90’s, which carved a path for future bands in the European death metal context.
If you compared the earliest death metal stuff in the likes of Schuldiner, Becerra and to some extent, Mille & co., with these tunes, you might not find particularly shocking differences. Grave pretty much stick to the traditional subgenre formula on “Hating Life” and “Deformed”, which are constructed with no risk or audacity, rather going for the prototypical, unsurprising elements of enraged speed and sonic furor in the form of straightforward riffage and compulsive double-bass kicks. The proclivity for certain song-structure variability though, with slightly obstinate arrangements that modify the tempos and the composition and tone of lines doggedly, shakes up the dynamics to great effect, turning out to be a pretty valuable strategy to not fall into technical indolence and self-complacency. Complementing the delirious velocity on a majority of songs here, there are a few dense, hefty sections to be found, of course, notably decisive on the intro to “Day of Mourning” or the mid-sections on “Banished To Live”, yet sounding forced, obtrusive and artificial on the title-track, which steals with no shame certain riff sequence from that one band from Aston. But luckily, instead of repeating the same riff cadence and tone monotonously during the songs in general, these Swedish keep trying to alternate diverse sonic halos and grooves, from pounding to accelerate, as well as sporadically-enlightened riff variations – check “Extremely Rotten Flesh”.
Into The Grave started no revolution in the subgenre, meaning you’ll have to look somewhere else for experimentation, technicality and progression. Most Swedish preferred to associate with the shameless simplicity, nerve and insolent attitude of hardcore, instead of obeying the standards of instrumental quality and discipline of classic heavy metal, implicitly seeing themselves reflected on the philosophy of Poland/Germany-styled thrash. So despite their tenacity and piquancy when it comes to designing song-bodies which hardly remain unchanged during the titles, the arranging and configuration of riffs ain’t preeminent or presumptuous by any means – technical limitations are indelibly exposed on the performance besides, but Grave manage to push forward with their musical concept with energized passion and naturalness, unlike the dreary attempts from some of their compatriots. For this early stage in fact, regardless of the insufficient level of musicianship, the facility and wit with which they design humble, yet expressive instrumental landscapes, menacing atmospheres and amusingly abhorrent verses keeps this stuff from being too impersonal and contrived – something Skogsberg’s production contributes to, as well. Despite remaining sober and non-intrusive most of the time, his production emphasizes occasionally certain interiors like those surrounding synthesizers on the title-track, which combined with Jörgen Sandström’s infernal snarling, shapes a gloomy, dark climax which provides the songs of a more colorful aura and darker feeling the early demos were devoid of.
This is an album which has had an undeniably big impact on many generations of wannabe death metal artists throughout the years, not only in these guys’ home country but across the planet – with the help of other of Skogsberg’s protégés, it forged the identity and sound of one of the most promising and fruitful European extreme metal musical movements. Certainly, they didn’t risk too much here, they rather worshipped faithfully and romantically the mid-80’s pioneers, yet emphasizing the punkish roots, the vocal extravagance and the haunting halo twice as much as their idols. Curious how primitive records like this have aged so well, despite not bringing many changes to the classic values of the subgenre, which at the time weren’t innovative at all…