Review: Grave GnosisLux Nigredo

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Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah oh hello there.

You’ve caught me in the midst of the magnificent horror trip that is Grave Gnosis‘ latest album, Lux Nigredo. It’s a trip I’ve been on several times during the past few days. I’ve climbed right back aboard every time it ended, because as much as it baffles me, I cannot withstand its allure.

The journey starts out in a pretty chill, if eerie place; a melange of warped voices and ethereal choirs gently but creepily see us embark. The music that follows takes things slow for a bit; despite a barrage of double bass, the overall pace is slow, and a wavering, trippy guitar creates a feeling of soaring through unfamiliar but interesting space. With the first bursts of blast beats, however, things start to ramp up towards the chaotic. When going hard, the drums almost drown out the guitar, and the reverb-heavy, raspy vocals sitting somewhere in the middle further add to an almost overwhelming sense of cacophony. The song goes on alternating between wide-open plateaus of atmosphere—at one point reduced all the way down to drums and an acoustic guitar—and these throes of claustrophobic aggression, almost like convulsions. If nothing else, it should be clear by this point that this ride can be a confusing one.

As if to confirm this notion, the almost dulcet outro of the opener is followed by shrill, dissonant tones of a cello played over a blast beat, and as the onslaught of raw-ish black metal kicks in, every aspect that seemed even remotely welcoming or inviting about the first track is gone. No more trippy guitars for now; instead, they join in the dissonance, honing in on that claustrophopic, overwhelming feeling of which there were glimpses in the first track. But then, suddenly, all the clamour dies down again for a brief moment, only to start things from the beginning with that same shrill cello line, and… and it is usually around this point that I give up following everything closely and instead just surrender to the stream. Subsequently, my minute-to-minute live reporting must stop, for while almost every track could easily fill its own paragraph, my puny words can only do so much to capture every monumental moment of the proceedings (not to mention you’d doze off halfway through reading this).

Put more succinctly, then, Grave Gnosis throws a lot at the wall throughout the album’s whopping 75 minutes. And a surprising amount of it sticks. The main elements at play are not difficult to identify: there’s a consistent underpinning of raw black metal, there’s the spaciousness and forlorn melodies of atmospheric black metal, and there’s an array of “psychedelic” elements, consisting of the effects they put on the guitar, the occasionally outlandish instrumentation, and the (surprisingly and pleasantly few) ambient soundscapes. Different songs lean on these staples to different degrees.

Second track “Anathema” as well as “Subverting the Life Force Current” go hard on the trve kvlt side of things. The second half of “Sokushinbutsu” and all of the closer “Solipsist Dreams” conjure drifts across majestic forests. Yet the music is rarely ever just one thing, and if so, it’s usually not for long. By tightly interweaving the aforementioned as well as other flavours of black metal, they’ve created a sound that remains engaging by consistently being pulled in different directions. This tension propels it forward and pulls me along every time, taking me through otherworldly realms where lush pastures lie side by side with harsh cliffs, dragging me over cold, barren earth and through forest mulch warmed by the sun, and all the while, I am blissfully smiling.

Well, not all the while. I’ve called the music “confusing” and “overwhelming,” and indeed, enthralled as I am by it, it’s just too much at times. This is largely due to the somewhat muddy sound design, which isn’t always a good match for the band’s sonic ambitions. When synths, vocals, and blast beats coincide, the result is often a mess, whereas almost every time the guitar goes for something more sophisticated than shredding, it pierces through the mix in a manner that can quickly become grating. “Necrosophia” and “Solipsist Dreams” (which otherwise feels like a grand culmination of the journey) are the worst offenders in this regard. The former could also do with some trimming, as could some others, but given the album’s feature-film length, I’m honestly surprised there’s nothing here I’d outright call filler. If you’re comfortable wherever styles intersect and don’t shy away from long-form black metal, this record is definitely worthy of eating up a chunk of your day.

Lux Nigredo came out on Vargheist Records and is available right here.

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