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It's wonderful to keep being surprised by American black metal bands... just when I think the scene has been completely tapped and the stylistic range the nation offers, as a whole, has been set down in stone, registered, and passed completely into history, I receive something like this in the mail. As USBM continues to grow, to reach towards something new, taking from European models and warping those guidelines, twisting them, mutating into novel paradigms, the scene sponsors a 'mainstream' approach, an 'accepted' style like the one Thornspawn or Krieg put forth, or the sound that Judas Iscariot is now flaunting... at the same time, beneath the burial surface, rebellions and personal animadversions are swarming, fermenting, turning against these accepted streams, straining at the gates...and now, for the time being, one such lethal strain has burst forth in the form of this band, who are setting a new standard for perverse, unholy darkness.
Taking their influence and starting point, I am guessing, mainly from Bethlehem, Burzum, or older US bands in the underground, this gathering of musicians have created a very unsettling sound for their creativity to flow out through, a chillingly, delightfully morbid and pathological approach which dissects the corpse of Norwegian black metal down to its base elements and then rebuilds a new style from seemingly contradictory fundamentals: a freezing, high treble guitar tone, an insanely vicious and histrionic series of vocal patterns, and an ear for pleasingly catchy (yet bitter) melodies that evoke the best the Scandinavians had to offer in the past without pandering in a too egregious fashion to what has come before. Because these songs are built in an extremely simple fashion from isolated, disjointed melodic fragments, shards of piercing harmonies and cutting, serrated refrains, Open Grave have the space, over this disc's much-too-short sixteen minutes, to summon a series of apocalyptic worlds within each song - the tracks do not build upon their own themes, to a large extent, but only offer slices of possible soundscapes, scenes or sound pictures where they could expand or explore in the future. But I am also guessing that this group, over time, will develop their style further and come to write songs that will slowly envelop the listener in divinely melancholy dimensions...just by listening to the quarter of an hour's worth of material here I know that they have to talent and melodic originality to build this band into something strikingly engrossing.
Because of the beautiful spirit of misanthropy that breathes painfully throughout this release, I am probably a little more taken with it than I should be, but this (an all-consuming hatred for 'humanity') is what I ask for in my black metal, and so Open Grave could not have picked a better way into my good graces than trying to kill me with their music. I admire/respect the sorrow (there are small references to Katatonia in here, surprisingly enough) and anger in these melodies, the courage on the part of this band to express these emotions, and the freezing, poisonous, soul-soothingly evil atmosphere of darkness and decay that runs like a black thread beneath these six songs.
From bracing hypothermia-laden sickness like 'Hellfvcked' to the slow, measured stalking of 'Satan and Blasphemy', with its eerie, over-distorted guitars and infernal tones of a soul descending into ritual madness; from the depressingly disturbed 'The Brutal Assault and Sacrifice of Innocent Children', which has a great beginning riff/repeating motif and actually evokes, for me, shades of Demoncy, to the cauterizing Ulver-like assault and relentless hammering of 'Their Sin Was Forgiven In Cinders' (great title) and the ending outro, the title track, which patiently watches as three guitar tracks interweave in an occult melody... this is outstanding work, worthy of being completely supported... I only wish it didn't end so quickly.
To sum up, I just want to say, again, that listening to this was a pleasant surprise (a true pleasure), and I hope to hear much more music from this band in the future... indeed I anticipate it, I look forward to it.
Note: this review was written for the CD re-release, but the music is the same.
Artist: Open Grave
Album Title: The Heavens Cry Black Tears
Label: Regimental Records
This is a CD re-release of the first demo from Open Grave, an American band playing fast, raw black metal.
Two guitars, one tuned high and the other low, sound over sinister bass lines and a drum computer. The drumming is a bit distracting, as computer drums tend to be, but this doesn't detract too much from the music. All this doesn't sound that original... but just as you start to think so, you hit the vocals. They're all over the map, from snarls to screams to clean howls, and all of it is completely insane. They bring to mind the vocals on Bethlehem's "Dictius te Necare", and anyone who has heard that one ought to know what high praise that is.
In terms of songwriting, these guys are pretty solid. The basic idea here is repetitive riffing, a la early Burzum, but each song has more than its share of distinctive riffs, and the band never falls into the featureless drone that's the hallmark of so many modern black metal bands. The vocals are used as a fifth instrument, one which occasionally comes close to taking the place of the guitar as the engine that drives the song forward.
There's one major drawback to this release - two, if you count the machine drumming - and that's the length. This CD is six tracks, but only plays for sixteen minutes, which is short even for a demo. Given, they're an enjoyable sixteen minutes, and the price is more than fair, but there's no escaping the short play length on this one.
If you enjoyed the original demo, this is a must-buy: the sound quality is crystal-clear compared to the tape, and the layout is brilliant. If you haven't heard it, but you're looking to explore some USBM demos, "The Heavens Cry Black Tears" is a good one to include. Recommended, as long as you can accept the short playing time.
Standout Tracks: "Satan and Blasphemy", "Brutal Assault and Sacrifice of Children"
Review by Vorfeed: http://www.vorfeed.net