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Chances are, if you're a metalhead who knows at the very least that Sweden had/has an incredible death metal scene, then I don't need to go on about all of the bands and how there were myriads of fantastic bands that never got past the demo stage. Grotesque is one of those unfortunate casualties, as they have never released a full-length, but luckily they've left us with this terrific five-track EP "Incantation." Whether or not this EP is considered widely influential in the metal underground is beyond me, but I definitely hear a lot of the newer groups out today with plenty of Grotesque in their music (Tribulation, Zombiefication, Putrified, etc), so it's definitely within the realm of possibility, especially when considering that these Swedes didn't exactly have the same d-beat/punk influence, nor did they have the chainsaw tone (though, it was still a pretty thick and heavy tone) that their comrades had, and a lot of the music here was driven by the insane riffs and intense drumming, more akin to the American style.
The self-titled opening track features plenty of different styles in the opening minutes, featuring some dark melodies, tremolos, and some thrashy riffs to get the listener's headbanging. The rest of the song follows suit, with an abundance of different riffs and some great vocals which are another highlight on "Incantation." I may not be the biggest fan of At the Gates (Or the subgenre that they play), but there is no denying that Tomas Lindberg (Or as he's known in Grotesque, Goatspell) can conjure some vile vocals that are absolutely perfect for fronting a band the caliber of Grotesque. What transpired on the first track is pretty much the entire story of this EP. The band did a brilliant job of structuring the music with a solid mix of thrashy riffs, death metal tremolos, melodies and an overall eerie atmosphere. "Submit to Death" and "Blood Runs from the Altar" are a couple of the more thrash-oriented tunes, but they're fronted by a death metal vocalist whose vocals could shatter glass. "Spawn of Azathoth" is an all-out blitzkrieg of intensity and if your head isn't banging, seek help. "Nocturnal Blasphemies" is probably the most "unique" song on this EP, as it features some riffs that have glimpses of technical patterns, but it's also one of, if not the darkest song here. So, the story here with "Incantation" and Grotesque isn't a new one, just one that I enjoy revisiting, because who doesn't love a little band that didn't make it as big as they should have? I know I do.
"Spawn of Azathoth"
"Blood Runs from the Altars"
Originally written for Nightmare Reality Webzine.
Grotesque was spawned out of the abyss in September 1988, rising from the ashes of Conquest, a Death/Thrash Metal band first formed in early 1986 by guitarist and songwriter Necrolord (Kristian Wahlin). However, this band didn't become totally twisted, insane and serious until unholy screamer Goatspell (Tomas Lindberg) joined in March 1988. When Grotesque hit the local scene that autumn, there were absolutely no other Death Metal bands around in the Gothenburg area and there were literally just a few people into underground Death and Black Metal. Grotesque soon got a maniacal reputation of being devoted Satanists, grave desecrators, blasphemers and a very brutal live band.
The original line-up featured Goatspell - vomits, Necrolord - high priest of distortion and Nuctemeron - 4-string damnation as well as two other members who soon left due to wimpdom. Rehearsing in the basement of Necrolord's house they soon got together their first violent pieces of death and mayhem. "Moondance Prophecy" was a slow song reminiscent of Hellhammer/Celtic Frost.
In the early months of 1989 the drummer, Offensor, joined the order of blasphemy and desecration thus completing the Grotesque line-up. They rehearsed heavily and decomposed more complex and evil Death/Black metal material like "Ascension of the Dead", "Blood Runs From The Altar" and "Fall Into Decay". On the 4th of May they recorded the blasphemous rehearsal/demo The Black Gate Is Closed, an avalanche of death and hate preparing the weak for Grotesque's first studio recording. The coming months were spent writing new songs like the epic "Angels Blood" and "Submit To Death" as well as playing a few crazy live shows. The legendary November recording of In The Embrace Of Evil featured five songs - this was originally ment to be the first five songs of a full length album on Dolores Records, another three tracks to be recorded later on. Therefore, the recording was never released as a demo. In August 1990, Grotesque released the Incantation E.P.
The E.P. begins with the foggy and dismal epic, "Incantation". A brief intro, sounding like something torn from a horror soundtrack, leads into powerful riffs that fade in, crushing all in sight. A haunting solo flows through your brain as a sinister tremolo melody seeps beneath the surface. The riffs shift toward something reminiscent of Treblinka/Tiamat, as the vocals creep in. The song speeds up as before Goatspell's sickening screams send chills up your spine. There are many tempo changes, as the song takes you on a blackened journey through the darkest shadows, far away from the light. This takes the legacy of Bathory, Slayer and Hellhammer even deeper into the depths of Hell, only to emerge darker and more malevolent. The spirit is closer to what Morbid accomplished on the December Moon release, and is much more evil than the bands in Stockholm, such as Nihilist or Carnage.
"Spawn of Azathoth" begins with very disturbing and sickening sounds, before the tremolo melodies and blasting drums assault the listener. This song is short yet still manages to leave an impression. The solos almost seem influenced by old Slayer, while the ghoulish vocals are certainly unholier than anything else going on in Sweden around this time.
The next song is "Nocturnal Blasphemies", which begins with an ugly thrash riff and a horrid scream, followed by a very fitting solo. Soon, the song builds in speed, as the thrash riffs are replaced by tremolo melodies that slice through your flesh like rusted blades. While it may have been released in the summer of 1990, this release embodies the underground scene of the late 1980s. This song, in particular, has a feeling similar to Hell Awaits.
"Submit to Death" is not as possessed as the previous songs. The riffs are more thrash-oriented and the atmosphere is not as dark. It has a lot of energy and contains very memorable riffs. The pace is fairly fast, though it slows down near the end. Again, this song is dominated by the thrash riffs. It displays variation in the style of Grotesque and fits in well, here. It serves as a break from the more dismal and suffocating feeling that permeates the rest of the songs.
This is ephemeral as "Blood Runs From the Altar" bursts forth, from the bowels of Hell, destroying all in its path. The demonic screams and the blasting drums gives this more of a Black Metal feeling than anything else. This song is unrelenting, during the first part. Near the middle, it slows down and Goatspell unleashes tormented screams. This is later followed by an unholy chorus of demons, right before the haunting lead solo. The song then speeds up again, before ending with a chilling scream that fades into oblivion.
Not long after Incantation was released, Grotesque played their last show and due to contradictions they split up shortly afterwards. What they left behind was an obscure legacy of evil. They remain alongside such bands as Merciless and Mefisto, being relatively unknown and unappreciated. It is a shame that they did not manage to keep things together long enough to release a couple proper full-length albums. Some of the spirit of Grotesque carried over into the first releases from At the Gates, before they went for the more simplistic sound that they would later embrace.