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The title track starts things off, with a wall of intense death metal riffs and low-pitched growls. The drums can be heard deep in the mix and occasionally Graveyard breaks out with semi-melodic guitar amongst it all.
The sound here is thick and drenched in low guitar feedback and semi-sludge riffs towards the middle of the track, which leads into an awesome, wailing guitar solo.
The second half of the song is a glorious gallop of twin guitar and thrashing drums. Bassist/Vocalist Julkarn barks out his lyrics over the top. It's all over really quickly! An Epitaph Written in Blood begins with a prolonged intro of great guitar harmonies and a mid-paced attack from the rhythm section, before the song takes flight nearly two minutes in. It's very different to the opener though, with a more sinister feel to it. Another great solo is heard amongst the noise and the realisation hits that Graveyard are heavily influenced by the halcyon days of death metal!
You wouldn't think a country as sunny as Spain could produce something this dark, but then the world is a different place now. Deathcrowned hits you from the off, with another old-school death salvo. The rhythms here are harder to pin down and it sees Graveyard flexing their musical muscles a little more. It's a headbangers paradise, with a dirty and ravaging sound.
Cult Of The Shadows enters the fray with semi-middle eastern intro riffs before the noise level rises to 11 and those deeps riffs trade blows with some amazing lead work. This is an instrumental song, which helps to build on the atmosphere already created by Graveyard. Penultimate song Ritual is just that! It's fast and heavy, with intense layers and melodies. This has more of a blackened thrash aesthetic to it though. The way Graveyard switch from headbanging speed to slow, sludgy death is brilliant and the overall instrumentation is a joy to behold.
Last song Howl Of The Black Death is a mid-paced attack on the senses. Much like the rest of this EP, the music is drenched in noise and the volume is huge. The guitars are in harmony on this track and the vocals of Julkarn seem even more brutal. The production used here makes sense for this record. It's old school and authentic and makes the music sound more organic.
Overall, this is great record and one that will be lapped by death metal fans. The music within is skilfully presented and Graveyard show they are true to their influences and to themselves.
Spain isn’t exactly the world’s most renowned hotbed for extreme metal, black and death doesn’t really appear to have much of a presence from our Iberian neighbours. Still nevertheless there are occasional gems that bubble to the surface from time to time, Graveyard being one of them. It’s been two years since their debut “One With the Dead” which was to be blunt fucking devastating, and they’ve just unleashed upon the unsuspecting their newest EP “The Altar of Sculpted Skulls”. And those who loved the debut will be pleased to hear that nothing has really changed, they’re just as deranged and ferocious as before, if not even more so this time around.
Looking at the artwork, I’d almost be tempted to buy this for that alone. Of course it also helps that the music present on this brief EP is death metal straight from the top drawer. The first four of the songs here are new while the last two are re-recordings of the tracks from the split with Terrorist which slot in alongside the new material seamlessly. So for those not in the know, Graveyard extract the shameless groovy brutality of early nineties Swedish death metal and fuse it together with the tentative doom-death oppression of Asphyx. If that doesn’t whet your appetite then you’re a rubber eared false.
The sound on this release is nothing short of punishing, a filth laden steamroller that’ll grind your bones to dust, and then reverse back over you again for good measure. The guitar work is fantastic, thick pulverising riffs with an altogether arcane tone are frequently followed by some outright sinister cascading lead work which together with Gusi’s flagellating and vigorous drumming and Julkarn’s booming grave dredging gutturals make for some extremely inspiring music.
Even on ‘An Epitaph Written in Blood’ you can hear the Entombed influence vividly, especially in the beginning before you’re trampled under a huge annihilating riff made of all kinds of awesome. This is pretty much par for the course for all the material present here, extremely claustrophobic death metal littered with shredding solos, surging riffs weaved into passages of sheer pedal to the floor speed and slower Asphyx-esque dirges. The intricacy of some of the drumming and guitar work is simply stunning, and the way the vocals are half submerged by the blizzard of everything else likewise.
It doesn’t stick around for too long but “The Altar of Sculpted Skulls” is exhaustingly good. death metal hasn’t been in a form as good as this in many years, and Graveyard are another band to add to that list of promising young acts currently making waves. If frenetic, morbid and downright repulsive death metal is your thing, then you could certainly spend your money on a lot worse. If you want innovation and melody then you’re looking into the wrong place. Their next full length will definitely be something to watch out for.
Despite their Spanish origins, Graveyard is the epitome in terms of displaying the influence of Swedish-styled death metal. Besides quoting influential Swedish death metal bands such as Entombed and Dismember as some of their major inspirations, the gory artwork also upholds that old-school creed nicely, completing the image that the band wants to portray to their audience.
The abrasive guitar tone and the chaotic riffs on opening title track The Altar of Sculpted Skulls leaves the listener with little time to react, and one instantly knows that this EP is going to be one hell of a ride, completed with the gruff vocals of Julkarn and the d-beat drumming style that so characterises Swedish death metal. On top of that, another pleasant surprise is the clearly audible bass of Julkarn, providing that ominous low end that creates an almost suffocating atmosphere throughout the entirety of the EP.
Right from the start, influences from such bands as Entombed can be heard, not only in the guitar tone but also in the grooves that are present in the riffs, though Graveyard takes a more extreme step through the incorporation of slower, doom-paced moments that allow the full impact of the heavy, chugging riffs to crush upon the listener. The intro riffs to An Epitaph Written in Blood also brings about some haunting moments despite its melodic quality, helping to create a high-strung tension in the air before finally letting all crash down after hitting the climax, though this as well takes a slightly slower, heavier and more doomy approach compared to other Swedish death metal bands such as Entrails and this continues for the most part of the album.
The band also took a unique step of including an instrumental track in the form of Cult of the Shadows in this already-extremely short release, but there is nothing to complain here as the track is a good display of the individual band members' abilities as musicians, and it is also here where guitarists SBE and Bastard get to show their individual influences. Included on the EP as well are 2 re-recorded tracks, which lean more toward a slightly faster and more reckless style, and displays the growth of the band as songwriters since their early days. With the rapid churning out of Swedish death metal albums, the market has started to get saturated, but Graveyard's The Altar of Sculpted Skulls has restored some faith in this musical style once more.
Churning out surprisingly heavy Swedish death metal from the depths of Spain, Graveyard are a four member band that have put out substantial quality in their latest EP “The Altar Of Sculpted Skulls." What you can expect on this record is worship (but not a straight-up rip off) to some of the Swedish death metal masters that knew how to do it right, and even some tribute to death metal bands like Funebrarum and such. Granted, these two styles can often be found backing each other up (not always), but Graveyard certainly know how to blend them together and release catchy yet evil and morbid old-school death metal. By mixing these two styles, they surpass so many other bands that are releasing sub-par and derivative material today.
The EP starts off right away with no use of a needless acoustic or ambient introduction as I find so many bands doing lately, and they beat the listener in the head with a massive sledgehammer of heavy death metal. The guitar tone will immediately appeal to those who are in need of a good ass-kicking death metal record, and “The Altar Of Sculpted Skulls” kicks off the EP with a nice blast of tremolo passages and chugging mosh grooves. Conversely to so many generic Swedish death metal bands today that are trying to imitate--and quite cheaply, at that--the style for which Sweden is renowned, they appropriate there music with far more interesting riffs than other bands have… which is not to say progressive wankery; rather, simplistic, heavy and flat-out crushing riffs, and I mean this all in the best way possible. There are few riffs that sound recycled, and between their jumbles of different riffs, there's great lead work. To expand on that, yes, there is lead work, to even my surprise. Whether it’s the more rock ’n’ roll-y solo on the first track or the catchy and eerie one on the next track, they alone definitely improve the quality of the music, brought about by high-pitched guitars and creative, memorable patterns.
While the rhythmic guitars are the highlight on this record, the vocalist also does a pretty good job of delivering quality death metal. He spews out low growls and grunts, grisly and bestial vomits along with the occasional shriek that agree perfectly with the crunchy and dense guitar tone. Graveyard is definitely a band to watch out for, and I eagerly await a new full-length after hearing this bastard of an EP. Equally fun as it is memorable, you’ll constantly find yourself bobbing your head to the catchy rhythms and headbangable mid-paced grooves that lie gruesomely in “The Altar Of Sculpted Skulls.” Hell, even the instrumental track on this record is fantastic, with its doomy sections and eerie passages. The only complaint I harbor is that it’s too short, but luckily, everything that lies in store for you on here is of good quality.
This cover of Graveyard's most recent EP is what really lured me into checking out the music. It's in the only acceptable kvlt colors -- black and white. It has countless skulls. I know this because I tried to count them and I couldn't do it before I ran out of fingers and toes to count on. That makes the number of skulls countless. Plus, everything is dripping, even the words. And you don't need color to know what they're dripping with, and it's not honey. Then you have the evil-looking candelabras and the ominous hooded figure standing behind the ALTAR OF SCULPTED SKULLS!
Kudos to the artist, Matt 'Putrid' Carr (Autopsy, Impetigo, Coffins, Hooded Menace, etc), for this dread-inspiring achievement. It's everything you want as a visual introduction to your spine-extracting, skull-bleaching, morbid death metal -- which happens to be the musical content of Altars of Sculpted Skulls.
That's right, this is most definitely not the Graveyard that produced all that retro-stoner-doom rock on Hisingen Blues last year. That was the Swedish Graveyard. This is the Graveyard from Spain, the band who released a 2009 debut album called One With the Dead plus an early demo, a previous EP, and an assortment of splits -- and the band who, in Altars, have created what is rapidly becoming my favorite old-school death metal release of the new year. Every song is a gem -- black diamonds in the rough.
The new EP includes six songs. Two of them are re-worked versions of earlier songs and four are new. The template for the music was set more than 20 years ago by seminal Swedish bands such as Carnage, Dismember, and Entombed. The template can be altered, of course (and has been), but it may be one of the few blueprints of extreme metal that really can't be improved upon: If changed by much, the music simply becomes something else rather than a better version of the original sound.
Perhaps that recognition is what has driven most of the Swe-death revival bands of the last half-decade to attempt nothing more than a faithful homage to the founding fathers. Some succeed in capturing the feel of the bands who inspired them, and some don't, but even the best of the mimics leave this question hanging in the air: Why pay attention to a talented imitator when you can still listen to the originators?
Part of the answer is that although the musical style may be utterly familiar, new songs are still new songs, and if the new songs have staying power and replay value, then they're worthy additions to your library. I think the rest of the answer lies in small things, because -- to repeat -- big changes mean you've torn up the blueprint and simply built something else.
On The Altar of Sculpted Skulls, Graveyard achieve success in all these ways: They do a brilliant job of capturing the sound and feel of the original music; they've created memorable new songs that are likely to have staying power; and they've added small touches that make it worthwhile to interleave their songs on your playlist with those tracks from Into the Grave, Like An Ever Flowing Stream.
Those touches include effective use of tempo dynamics, both within songs and from one song to the next. For example, the opening title track starts as a thrashing upheaval and then progressively becomes slower and slower, and increasingly morbid in its atmosphere, before the speed accelerates again at the end. "Cult of Shadows" crawls at a doomed pace from beginning to end but is followed by the chaotic gallop that begins "Ritual", before it too drops into an Asphyx-like pit of death-doom.
Other examples of those small, sickly sweet touches: The use of a high-pitched lead guitar to accent the massive rhythms and to spool up dynamic solo's that are never exactly the same in style from one song to the next; the dramatic, almost cinematic instrumental overtures that begin "An Epitaph Written In Blood"; the organic switch in drum rhythms from d-beats to rock beats to brutal pounding where the changes best suit the changing dynamics of the songs; the leonine roar about halfway through "Deathcrowned" that signals a change in the song and the beginning of a vertebrae-breaking headbang fest.
I come back to that "Cult of Shadows" song. As an instrumental track, it's a surprising stand-out on the EP. The rhythm part of the song begins and ends with a simple, four-chord progression that moves ever so slightly up and back down the scale, accompanied by a repeating drum motif, with a different progression in the song's middle section. That up-register lead guitar then works its magic over this heavy foundation, beginning with an almost stoner-doom, bluesy melody at the beginning and then moving into an eerie atmospheric workout for the balance of the song.
I also need to single out the vocals: They are gargantuan, echoing, utterly galvanizing torrents of crypt-dwelling bestiality.
In a nutshell, Graveyard remind us why there is still life in death metal.
Last month I've found out that Dismember, after 20 years of their death metal crusade, has split up. I'm not going to hide the fact that they're one of my favourite bands ever and that I worship every album they've done - whether we speak about "Like an Ever Flowing Stream", "Massive Killing Capacity", "Hate Campaign" or whatever. They’re all killer. So, these were some fuckin' sad news (at the same time I kind of expected it to happen since Fred Estby left). These news would be even more fucked up, if it wasn't for the fact that Dismember has inspired so many other bands and there's the new generation of old school death metal acts, some of which carry on the crusade in almost equally successful way. Of course a copy will never be as good and exciting as original, but they can always try and work hard to get some killer recordings. Graveyard belongs to the group of bands which are most promising, no doubt. Their debut CD, "One with the Dead" was pure Swedish inspired death metal insanity and I liked it a lot. And what we have here is "The Altar Of Sculpted Skull", 12"EP, with a collection of few songs and some older ones, re-recorded for this release. Doomentia Records as always did a great job with their release, the layout looks cool, but sadly there's no insert card with the lyrics, etc, which is a disappointment. Also I do hope "The Altar Of Sculpted Skull" will remain as the vinyl ONLY release, as it would make it more unique.
Anyway, the music kills. There are six songs of traditional death metal in the Swedish vein and that should be enough for the whole description of this EP. If you're a fan of "Like an Ever Flowing Stream", "Clandestine" and "Dark Recollections", then "The Altar Of Sculpted Skull" will speak to you in the language you understand. The music is damn vicious and obscure, 666% in the classic style, without any modern influences, so also the production is filthy and raw. The first song, title one, is probably my favourite one, it's relatively fast and energetic, with some cool melodic riffs and in overall it could easily been taken from "Indecent & Obscene", if you didn't know. But every song here is great, not just that one... "An Epitaph Written In Blood" is almost equally shredding and "Cult of the Shadows" is an instrumental, based on some cool guitar leads and slow, hypnotizing riffs. Re-recorded "Howl of the Black Death" (originally featured on "Into the Mausoleum" EP) is another standout track, which will crush your skull and make some serious damage. When "Deathcrowned" started I had a small objection about its sound, as it has changed from the previous two tracks (for worse I think); this song was recorded during different recording session, but you can quickly use to it. By the way, I'm quite amazed how well does Graveyard manage to imitate the Stockholm's sound. The guitars sound just like from the Sunlight, which is great if you like it. One may moan whether there's any point in copying other band's style and sound so much, and if there's any sign of originality in bands like Graveyard. Well, I don't care, they may not be original, but at least they play killer music, which I always liked and was my favourite and have some awesome riffs. And if they do it well, then there's no problem. And trust me, Graveyard is fuckin great band and "The Altar Of Sculpted Skull" is fuckin superb EP.
Standout tracks: "The Altar Of Sculpted Skull", "Howl of the Black Death"