This marks the 50th post after our ever so unfortunate demise at the hands of a few dull hackers. Its good to be back and it has helped us in more ways than one. And there’s no better way to mark this occasion than with some heavy lager and metal.
01. Nocturnal Inquisition
02. The Evil Within
03. Master of the Dark
04. Dominion of Lost Souls
05. The Beast of the Abyss
06. I Die for Hell
07. Crown of the Fallen
08. Mistress of Blood and Fire
Gravewürm is an American extreme metal band that has been active since 1990, with their first demo The Morbid Decomposure of Mankind having been self-released in 1992. The band was originally formed in Pennsylvania but soon moved its base to Oakton, Virginia. The world of metal in a modern context has, and continues to be constantly swamped by a plethora of new bands and as a consequence, the conception of new sub-genres, some positive and conducive to the stylistic growth of heavy music as a whole, and some, on the other hand, sorely lacking in the spirit, ardour and feel that has characterised this extreme genre since time immemorial.
Infernal Minions is Gravewürm’s latest offering and the band’s 9th studio album. This album once again sees them paying tribute to and raising infernal exaltations to the deities that occupy the blackened altar, as in the likes of Hellhammer, Bathory, Beherit, Venom and Burzum. Gravewürm, as a band, do not seem to be trying to be connoisseurs of vicissitude, but instead once again embark on their journey of peregrinating an already traversed, but cherished, perhaps even safe path – an honest, genuine, almost child-like testimonial to the seers of the obscure, insidious and arcane side of heavy metal.
The very appeal of the earliest extreme Metal bands, to me on a personal level is very interesting. These bands formed a proto-type to the second wave of bands in the genres they respectively pioneered (black, death and in some cases, even doom metal), and in turn, those bands would go onto use their music as a base, in various facets such as imagery, musical style, lyrical themes and ideologies. However, the music of these first wave bands itself was simply a slight extension of their influences, from both their own generation and the generations that preceded them. For instance, Venom was simply a more abrasive Motörhead with extreme, blasphemous, but admittedly tongue-in-cheek imagery.
It is this overall simplicity in the music à la the catchy power-chord driven guitar riffs, raspy vocals and mayhemic drum-work; coupled with the over-the-top and extreme imagery that makes the generation of bands that spawned the likes of Hellhammer, Bulldozer, Sarcófago, Bathory, early Celtic Frost, early Sepultura, Holocausto, Blasphemy, Death SS, the early Teutonic thrash scene, etc. very enjoyable. Almost to the point that you yourself want to sport some corpse-paint, wear some bullet-belts and spikes and strike poses with clenched fists in dark forests, abandoned churches or graveyards in proximity with the country side. Argh!
Lest I digress with my more than apparent love for the genre, Gravewurm’s existence over two-decades has treaded this very path, along with some influence from the likes of bands that play in the vein established by the second wave of Black Metal bands – Burzum, Goatlord and Grand Belial’s Key. These influences in my opinion add to the more mature side to the song-writing abilities of the band, while the aforementioned first-wave influences add to the genuinity of their music. No arpeggios, sweep picking, string skipping and all that jazz – just some filthy tunes containing infernal invocations, giving of a chthonian impression coupled with blasphemous, esoteric themes.
The album kicks off with Nocturnal Inquisition, a straightforward album opener with predictably enjoyable riffing, raspy vocals in the vein of Nuclear Holocausto or Quorthon and simplistic drumming. The second track The Evil Within is also structured in a rather similar vein as the opening track. The third track, Master of the Dark is almost immediately enjoyable, opening with some fairly fast-paced doomy riffs (well, by doom standards anyway). While the drum work initially maintains the simplistic quality of the first two tracks, the track sees variation in terms of the tempo and patterns. This track also sees the first display of their adduced claim of dark ambient influences, with grim synthesizer notes being featured in the middle of the track. The fourth track, Dominion of Souls features some bludgeoning guitar work complemented by somber synthesizer notes. With this song, Gravewurm gives a direct nod to the likes of Burzum and H418ov21.C-era Beherit. A creeping pace coupled with prolonged, tasty riffs makes this one of the more enjoyable songs of the album.
The fifth track, The Beast of the Abyss, is a rather semi-thrashy, run-of-the-mill number but has some moments of brilliance courtesy of the blackened character of the lead guitar work. Unfortunately this is seemingly relatively low in the mix, probably intentionally so, given the now, more than well known ethos of the production quality of black metal acts. The sixth track, I Die for Hell is just as cheesy as the name would lead you to believe – caricatured menacing riffs with exaggerated vocals, the metal equivalent of a goofy villain straight out of a children’s movie. All in good spirit, though, and makes for a fun listen. Crown of the Fallen is also in a similar vein – the masters as far back as Venom have been doing the same, so why not their musical descendants?
Lastly, Mistress of Blood is an excellent closer, and arguably the best track of the album. The song invokes an absolutely infernal atmosphere, without the need to resort to any blatantly ambient musical tactics, and surprisingly melodic for a band that plays an eclectic mix of black, thrash, doom and death metal. The album ends on a very good note with this number.
In summation, the guitar tone is like that of Bathory’s early era slowed down to a predominantly Burzum-like pace throughout the album. The vocals are raspy, harsh and coarse, almost goblin-like in sonic quality. The drumming is very simplistic in nature throughout the album, and thus there is nothing to be said about it further.
I found that the album has its moments of brilliance, inducing the misty, grim and gloomy atmospheres that black metal is famous for, but as a whole invokes the spirit that the forefathers of the black metal genre from the 80’s first wave established – in a raw, in-your-face and honest manner.
I do, however, have to point out the apparent sloppiness of the drum work on the album. Most of the time signatures are either a regular 4/4 at a high BPM and a 12/8. While one does not expect overt technicality in such a genre, some basic conceptualization of appropriate time signatures to go along with the musical progression is unfortunately, sorely missing on this album.
I, for one, don’t see much stylistic growth in the music of Gravewürm relative to the rest of their discography, but in my opinion such bands must exist to maintain what I like to call a balance in the scene. These are the sort of bands that, while not particularly breaking new ground, serve to preserve a specific sound, that might well get lost in the sands of time lest we lay an excessive emphasis on constant musical innovation and change.