Review: Graveir Buck All Pretense On Cenotaph
Brendan Sloan (Convulsing) is back to give us his thoughts on the upcoming EP from the rising Australian black metal band Graveir.
It’s worth noting straight off the bat that Brisbane is fucking hot. A hot, gross, humid place. We’re not talking Alice Springs hot (centre of AU, deserts basically), but It’s hot enough that you might wonder why anyone would do anything at all for half the year, let alone play Black Metal in an airless room/tin roof shed. Regarding Battles In The North you’re thinking frost, gale winds, fog and Abbath’s unzipped fly on a mountaintop. Instead our North-East is equal parts elderly, leather-skinned, conservative party fuckheads, and shirtless beach bro Californian stereotypes. It’s also the part of the country that gave us Grave Upheaval, Astriaal, Spire, Impetuous Ritual, Ill Omen, and Portal…
Graveir are another one of a handful of bands to emerge from the Sunshine State that absolutely transcend the misfortune geography. Formed in 2014 and featuring two former members of Moon (yet another Brisbane triumph), Iconostasis immediately put them on my radar when it was released in 2016. A strong entrant to the bleak, melodic Black Metal cabal we seem to have developed in this country, but hinting at their true songwriting potential. The hints continued on a stellar split 7” with Mar Mortuum released mid-2017, and my appetite has been well and truly whet since.
2018 brings us Cenotaph and yet another big stride forward. From the first notes the sound is familiar, but taken. The mix is fundamentally identical to “Unyielding Vortices Of Suffering”: sharp and articulate guitars, clear bass, punching drums. This time around however, the vocals occupy far more sonic real estate. Desperate howling with an exaggerated booming reverb contrast starkly against the dryness of the drums and guitars to glue the lot together. There’s increased interplay between the hard-panned guitars, and the bass does not simply follow, but dictate melodic context. Drums beat obstinately as ever.
The advance track “Sanguine Inferno”, an objective ripper of an opener, shows all of this off within the first 90 seconds. A solitary guitar mournfully descends into a soup of thick bass drums, snare plate and heavy vocal reverb, as harmonised leads wind deftly around your neck. Refreshingly, these guitar melodies harmonise more widely as the song progresses, and Cenotaph as a whole features some truly striking and beautiful melodic moments with a tone and structure unique to Graveir. There are few laboured ideas, minimal pretense. Graveir simply push you along, without overstatement, from one theme to the next.
The way these songs move is what I came here for. There’s a stereotypical way to play chords, and progressions of chords in Black Metal and I’ve fucking heard it. So, so many times. Even those of you with no musical powers of any kind have heard it. Pull up to Bandcamp right now, click on anything on the front page tagged as “Black Metal” and there it goes again. (Or listen to the new Watain…) It’s by-the-numbers 2nd wave trope recycling that still permeates. Here, nothing so basic can be found. Harmony is complex and moods shift seamlessly. No abrupt or ham-fisted transitions, all finesse. “Droit De Seigneur” sees Graveir meander gracefully between dirgeful harmonised leads, tense up-tempo blasting and warring double-bass marches like it’s nothing. Dust on some backing vocals in the climax courtesy of the bass player and you’ve got some goooood shit.
My only issue with Cenotaph is that it is sometimes a tad too loose for its own good. Quite clearly multi-tracked without a metronome (and probably with drums last?), the drums sometimes find themselves juuuuuust out of sync with the guitars, one rushing against the other. It’s most noticable about 3 minutes into “Dyatlov”, and it really sucked the wind out of my sails for such a great part to be hindered by its performance. In saying all that, if I didn’t let it bother me on Pleasure To Kill or Chemical Exposure, it’s not going to bother me here. The compositions are really fucking strong, and this is a small mark on an otherwise great work.
It should have been another third longer, and i’m simply too much of a pedant to ignore the too-loose feel (sorry Kris!), but I remain psyched to hear where Graveir are headed. If this EP is any indication of their future plans, their magnum opus is right around the corner. A unique voice in our often creatively bankrupt Metal scene.
4 / 5 Flaming Toilets
Pre-order Graveir‘s Cenotaph (digital or 12″ vinyl) via Bandcamp ready for its April 20th release through Impure Sounds.