Review: Graveyard – Innocence and Decadence
Graveyard came onto the scene just as the proto-metal/retro-rock fad was kicking into high gear. It was perfect timing, as the band’s vintage vibe and commitment to excellent songwriting really helped them stand out from the veritable legion of psyche/doom/stoner/retro bands that seemed to crawl out of dank basements across the world en masse in the last decade or so. Now, in 2015, as the proto-metal movement is over-saturated to the point of critical mass (seemingly forecasting an inevitable decline in the near future), are Graveyard still the leaders of the pack or is album four the beginning of the end? Let’s find out.
On the whole, Innocence and Decadence is a chaotic affair. The previous album, Lights Out (one of my top picks for 2013), felt like a coherent effort: meaty rock songs with a couple ballad type numbers sandwiched in strategic spots that made the record dynamic, yet whole. However, Innocence and Decadence is all over the place stylistically. The introduction of more experimental/psychedelic elements into the core sound is something I keep coming back to as a constant source of mild disappointment. Graveyard have flirted conservatively with psych on previous albums, but they seem to have embraced it far more on Innocence and Decadence; a song like “Can’t Walk Out,” with its psychedelia on display, comes across as an all too deliberate attempt at incorporation. Perhaps this integration is not so bad. In fact, many listeners would probably consider it a natural evolution for a band like Graveyard. Sure, I suppose that would make sense — except everywhere one turns nowadays, there seems to be some new psychedelic stoner rock band out there eager to kick out the jams with the same old tired effects and psych breakdowns. If not for the over-saturation in the genre, Graveyard’s progression into this realm may have been admirable, but for now it sounds played out and inappropriate for such a class act.
I mentioned earlier, before embarking on my anti-psych rant, that Innocence and Decadence is stylistically all over the place. Over the course of the album’s eleven songs, listeners will encounter quite a few disparate elements blending together, but not seamlessly: head-nodding songs for driving through the desert at night, unrequited love ballads that belong to another decade, hard-rockin’ numbers that’ll get the blood flowing, and others that are seemingly the result of an open live-room jam session. This is problematic for those seeking a solid and dynamic listening experience, the dynamism on display being just on the wrong side of hectic for me. Of course, on the other hand, this could be an interesting statement of course by the band. If the lyrics from “The Apple & The Tree” are any indication, Graveyard may just be doing their own thing for their own sake without giving a fuck who knows it: “So sick of people telling us who we are / I’m neither, I’m everything, and in-between / I’m nothing and something that you’ve never ever seen.” However, I’d be remiss as a reviewer to not also note that despite whatever level of self-sufficiency and independence Graveyard function at here, the album’s resultant flow from song to song tends to be a little too chaotic for its own good. It is a challenge, or even a probelm, for those who would like to listen to the album as a collective effort rather than a mish-mash of styles and songs.
For all of my bitchin’ and moanin’ about Innocence and Decadence thus far, it is still a Graveyard album, which is to say that it is still an awesome slab of groovin’ rock ’n roll. While some of the songs lack that fuzzy, driving riff that has become the band’s signature, the ones that do embrace it really stand out in my mind. “Never Theirs to Sell” is a tease of a song at just over two minutes in length, but it makes me want to slam my head into the concrete and feel good about it with its aggressive groove and scream-sung vocals. “Hard-Headed” follows a similar trajectory, with its massive, fuzzed-out bass line pushing the song into nuclear overdrive during the brief, but belligerent, choruses. Also of note is the the much appreciated nod to the band members’ extreme metal roots with the well-placed, yet very unexpected, blast-beat midsection in “From a Hole in the Wall” (listeners might also check out the sinister Seasons in the Abyss-esque riff from the opening track of Lights Out). The album’s centerpiece ballad, “Too Much Is Not Enough,” strays perilously close to over-indulgent R&B/Soul music worship, but this, along with the other slower numbers on the album, can be forgiven by the presence of some great vocal hooks therein.
This has been a very difficult review to write. I have had quite a few negative things to say about this album, with only a few positive ones. But this is because I love this band so very much; I hold them to a very high standard, given their near flawless discography. Innocence and Decadence has proven to be a real challenge for me — not because the songs themselves are progressively challenging, but rather because the album is so scattered and chaotic that the listening experience becomes a retro-rock fever dream at points. What was that? What’s going on over here?! What about over there?! Again, some may listen to the riff stew and may be pleased with the sonically diverse and wide range of riffing and songwriting; ironically, it leads one to question whether Graveyard were indeed self-aware of the “decadence” of which this album partakes heavily. One could say that they definitely were. This brings me back to my initial question of where this album puts Graveyard in the grand scheme of the proto-rock trend. I think the Swedes have once again crafted an album that is superior to the vast majority of material released by so-called “retro” bands nowadays — hence the fair/decent score — but they have ultimately fallen prey to experimentation for the sake of it, and in doing so, have foregone some of that songwriting/album-writing talent found on previous records. I’d ultimately like for Innocence and Decadence to make an appearance on my Album of the Year list, especially for the hard rockin’ songs that do resonate with me, but its place in the list is tenuous as of now.
Turn on, tune in, but don’t drop out just yet: Innocence and Decadence is gonna require your full attention.