Review: Grethor’s Damnatio Memoriae

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Remember a few years back when Grethor was named the Best Unsigned Band in Virginia? This author sure can, ’cause in that same year they had released a killer EP called Cloaked in Decay that was pretty great. Well it was only a few months ago that I discovered Grethor were about to drop their first full-length album, and so the anticipation was high…

That’s the ultimate quest with this review: to find out if this debut album ruled. Let me start out by saying that Yes, it does rule. A few years ago when I discovered the aforementioned EP, a couple of attributes immediately set them apart from the rest: a unique and raspy voice; dissonant riffs (Gorguts style), and guitar solos. All of those features are present in abundance on Damnatio Memoriae, but there’s so much more to offer, and I’m gonna tell you all about it.

As the album begins we are treated with an incredible song called “The Imminent Unknown” which sets the stage with a creeping bassline accompanied by slow, grinding double-bass drums and distorted guitar that comes at a doomy pace. Throughout its five and a half minute runtime the band slowly injects bits of chaos into the mix, showing us that we were foolish to expect a traditional intro song. By the end of “The Imminent Unknown” the listener should have a pretty good idea of what to expect through every step of this LP’s duration: unpredictability in song structure and a no-holds-barred assault of tempo changes. There’s a consistency among its 11 songs that shows true staying power for Grethor, and while I hesitate to say they’ve adopted a formula for great composition, they certainly have developed a winning recipe for it.

“The Last Manifesto” (embedded below) provides the inverse of that first song in how it starts at breakneck speed and slows into an easily digestible groove; and alternates continually betwixt the two paces. Halfway through you’ll find one of those finger-kissing guitar solos that help Grethor really stand out from the black metal crowd, and then another spectacular shreddy solo to conclude it.

Grethor doesn’t bog the album down with any lengthy intros, outtros, or filler songs. And while Damnatio Memoriae has zero dips in quality for its duration, I’m going to call it “middle-loaded” because tracks 5, 6, and 7 could themselves alone make up a short EP of greatness. That’s also where one will find the largest magnitude of dissonant riffing, for instance in the bridge of “Enantiodromia” (between guitar solos of course) and in the first minute of “Requiem for a Strawman” which wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a later-career Gorguts song.

There is literally never a dull moment to be found here, which is some of the highest praise I can apply to something that shares space in the “black metal” genre. And though I’ve spoken so highly of the beginning and middle of the album, the final two tracks are no slouch either (I guess what I’m trying to say is that the whole thing just rips). When you get to the penultimate song “From This Rot so Shall We Be Remade”, you might mistake it for the end with its slower pace (akin to “The Imminent Unknown”), melodic guitar soloing, and its final minute of come-down. But no, there’s another one right after it to book-end this spectacular work of art.

There’s no shortage of great things to say about this record, I’m only limited by my vocabulary here. Grethor maintains consistent quality from front to back and retains all the amazing elements from Cloaked in Decay that helped them earn the title of Best Unsigned Band in Virginia. I would even say that they have improved upon each and every one of them: a few of the kinks have been ironed out of the guitar riffing (in terms of tone and chord progression) that shows a maturity in the songwriting over the past few years and they’ve increased the output of shreddy guitar solos to a point that can only put a smile on my face. The band has proven that they have the chops to compose a full album’s worth of intricate and memorable songs, in fact I’ll venture to say that Damnatio Memoriae has helped kick off 2018 with an album that will surely occupy a place in my top 10 for the year when it ends. It’s that good.

This beast drops on January 26th, pick it up on BandCamp.

(Image via Metal Maniac)

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