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Transitional Fossils: Where to Next? - 74%

WhenTheHypeDies, March 28th, 2019

Following a mere year after “Sventevith,” Behemoth’s “Grom” displays an edging away from the bitter cold of the traditional Norwegian black metal sound, introducing some death metal sensibilities to the nascent Behemoth sound. Moreover, “Grom” introduces a more experimental approach to song structures, taking some notes perhaps from Satyricon’s “Dark Medieval Times” by the abrupt transition to atmospheric elements and non-buzzsaw instrumentals (see "Dragon's Lair" for a great example of this). Female vocals, Viking/warrior-esque chants, clean instrumental passages, shredding guitar leads, etc. all play into the crafting of a landscape on “Grom,” and the better quality of the production also signals the development that has occurred in the brief time between “Sventevith” and this release. However, is this to the benefit of Behemoth’s sound? Does “Grom” signal a surpassing of the debut full-length from these Polish (then-)youngsters?

The more expansive sound is clearly indicated on the opening track “The Dark Forest (Cast Me Your Spell),” whose unnatural progression is also a fair indication of the album’s overall inconsistency. We have furious blast beats, bass solos, guitar solos, female vocals, a groaning male clean vocal, meditative clean guitar work, etc. It’s an absolute melodrama, overwhelming the listener with a smorgasbord of ideas. “Spellcraft and Heathendom” is the first real hint of death metal sensibilities, with several of the riffs not far off from Darkthrone’s “Soulside Journey” or even Possessed, and while the vocal performance remains firmly rooted in black metal screams a fair deal of the song is reminiscent of early death metal. Perhaps the best song on the album, “Lasy Pomorza,” reminds the listener of Mayhem in certain passages, a relentless piece that is driven by a massive drum performance, rolling toms somersaulting around a fairly straightforward tremolo-picked guitar, spiced with clean guitar undertones and driving bass. Again, the album’s melodrama is on full display, an impassioned Nergal driving the musical stake into the listener’s heart.

And while the sound of “Grom” is undeniably epic, the multitude of ideas on this album never fully cohere. Moreover, several songs are fairly standard black metal that does not benefit from the less focused quality of the album. “Rising Proudly Towards the Sky” and “Thou Shalt Forever Win” sound almost like left-overs from the debut album, straightforward black metal cuts that lack the rather imaginative variety displayed in the song structures and pacing of “The Dark Forest” and “Lasy Pomorza.” Where they would have been at home in the skillfully executed Norwegian black metal sound of Behemoth’s debut, here their unremarkable quality is highlighted by being positioned so late in an album that, by contrast, has been filled with a great deal of variety. Ultimately, “Grom” is far from a bad piece of work but it is certainly less enjoyable than “Sventevith.” Where on the debut the Norweigan black metal style was evoked with a strong, captivating familiarity, “Grom” is a transitional piece, working out a few different styles and not necessarily capturing any one of them very well. Its inconsistency is obvious. While still undoubtedly a black metal album, there is an ambitious venturing into new territory present here that is not yet fully committed to any single direction.