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[volcanic activity intensifies] - 70%

MutantClannfear, December 4th, 2013

Grave Upheaval is a perplexing beast. It's essentially what happens when the members of two already-fucked-up bands decide that their "signature sound" at this point prevents them from making the jump from "fucked-up" to "raises questions with regards to its status as music". This first Grave Upheaval full-length is like Portal, dumbed down as far as possible and presented in what's essentially the most inhuman way possible. And... I don't really like it that much, but I can definitely see how the right crazy person would.

This is essentially an Enmity-type band that plays cavernous death metal instead of BDM. No compromise is made for people who haven't already shaved their pubic hairs into the shape of the Incantation logo - you might still dig this if you haven't done that yet but you've already made the jump to permanently sewing a copy of Graves of the Archangels into a skin flap on your back. This album is basically a borderline where a lot of people will look at it and start to say it's not even death metal, and really, its modus operandi and mood are almost entirely different. For one, the guitar tone is impossibly thick and bassy (think maybe one degree away from sounding like Sunn O))), Conan and all your other doom giants), to the point where there really aren't any riffs to cling onto. The riffs are more "sensed" than heard at this point, and what little is audible obviously isn't made to provide things to hum around the house - just your typical tremolo patterns for this kind of death metal, but substantially dumbed-down. The percussion is given a ridiculously low emphasis in the mix, mostly just sort of echoing over the edges of the music from hundreds of miles away; and the vocals aren't even death growls at this point, just otherworldly howls from beyond the nether regions devoid of syllabic or rhythmic variation. In other words, this sounds like what might happen if an Encoffination fanboy commissioned an autistic person to make an Incantation clone album to his liking, but while describing the specifications he couldn't stop using metaphors like "IT'S NOT EVEN GUITARS, IT'S LIKE A BIG VOLCANO ERUPTING"; and the autistic person, blind to figures of speech, went off and collected audio samples of a gigantic goddamn volcano.

That's really the best way to describe what Grave Upheaval's album sounds like: it's like the biggest volcano on Earth slowly discharging billions upon billions of gallons of magma, and seeping for miles across a barren surface. It's almost kind of charming in its consistent tempo, how it's always locked firmly in place by the drums which usually sound more like war-marching beats than anything traditionally death metal-based. The music comes in pulses or waves more than anything else; typically Grave Upheaval go through, say, a dozen slow discharges before the band throw in one of their occasional blasting parts, at which point the riffs don't even try to be audible and just explode into a bunch of chunky bass frequencies. There's absolutely no flair in any other regard - no varying lead patterns, no notable changes in the pace of drumming, no vocal lines that really grab you - and I'm certain that's exactly how the band wanted it.

...Of course, it doesn't make for dreadfully interesting music by itself. The atmosphere is nice, don't get me wrong, but when you don't zone out and bask in the album it's one of the most banal things you'll have ever heard. The riffs are pretty boring (and seemingly unjustifiably so, in that the riffs aren't contributing much to the droning, thick atmosphere the band are going for), the vocals could do a bit more with themselves aside from just the same Portal-esque hissing, and the entire thing runs through an enormous cycle of repetitions before it gets anywhere. There are slight shifts in mood and songwriting when the riffs change, but they won't be enough to satisfy anybody who's already bored of the album by the time the first riff kicks in; aside from that, none of the songs do anything intriguing or narrative-like, like maybe eschewing the lava flow for a few moments before kicking it back up with doubled intensity. The final track isn't nearly as horrendously downtuned, so it has a slightly greater focus on melody, but that's about it. Again, to appreciate this from a death metal perspective, you're going to have to be about as tasteless in your enjoyment of cavernous DM as possible, because it sincerely sounds like it was made by people who had never heard anything else in their entire lives.

I initially thought this album was really shit, but the more I listen to it and the more attuned to its atmosphere I become, the less it actually bothers me. It's certainly a mood that I haven't heard in any of these types of bands before, and it's not really life-changing or anything but it's moderately cool while it's on. On the other hand, trying to actively listen to it and find merit from that perspective is a miserably fruitless experience, and when evaluated in such a manner it's damn near worthless. My advice: treat it like a drone/dark ambient album with death metal elements so you're not tempted to compare it to things like Impetuous Ritual where you're bound to end up rather disappointed. Personally, I'm awarding this album points more for the concept than the execution; it's an interesting idea but I'll probably end up wanting to listen to this thing, like, maybe twice a year at most. People who have Ignivomous's logo tattooed on their colon should love this, though.