I presume most of you guessed Bastard Grave‘s chosen genre without listening to a second of their music, but in case you’re an extreme metal newbie (welcome! Take a seat, have some cake! Don’t mind the skulls, they’re not real. Probably), this extract from their promo sheet will give you a hint: “With the opening blare on the album starting off with the all-too-familiar guitar feedback reminiscent of a vague Entombed-ish trademark, it is easy to tell What Lies Beyond is heavily laced with the murderous HM-2 destruction and with absolutely no mercy.” That’s right, old school Swedish death metal that’s so devoid of new ideas, even the label thinks it’s generic! And with that I’m tempted to call it a day because, again, unless you’re a newbie (yes, yes help yourself to more cake please), you already know if you might enjoy this record. But partly because that’s rather unfair to the band, and partly because AMG pays by the word1, let’s explore what Bastard Grave bring to the table in a little more detail.
I’m being overly flippant, because though Bastard Grave play the same old riffs you’ve been listening to since 1989, they are admittedly pretty good at it. Leaning towards the Grave end of the Swedeath scale, What Lies Beyond is concerned more with mid-paced bludgeoning than the crusty punk grooves of certain Stockholm pioneers. After a fairly pedestrian first ten minutes, Bastard Grave hit their stride on third track “Awaiting Rebirth,” which provides three and a half minutes simplistic-yet-satisfying headbanging riffage before “Stalker” ups the pace with some nutritious blastbeats and recycled Entombed riffs. Worshiping the old-school as they do, it’s only natural that Bastard Grave have a track named after themselves, and “Bastard Grave” is a highlight – though that’s probably because it reminds me so much of Dismember, and I super heart Dismember.
Save for a couple of neat moments – the melodic final section of “Misery” and thrusting groove of “River of Death” – the remaining tracks merge into a murky mass of generic Swedeath; you’ll nod along happily, but you probably won’t remember much of it. So instead of grasping for ever more ways to describe a sound that’s been described a million times before, I’ll spend the rest of the review complaining about the mastering. I know around these parts moaning about dynamic range compression is even more clichéd than this record’s riffs, but it turns What Lies Beyond from being a decent enough throwback record into a painful chore (on headphones, at least). The dynamic squashing has dramatically accentuated the harsh guitar frequencies already enhanced by that classic Boss HM-2 pedal, while sucking all the energy and significant volume from the bass and kick drum. There’s barely any room left for the vocals to fit, which is a shame as singer Sonny has a wonderfully malicious snarl that I’d like to hear more clearly.
So there you have it: yet another retro Swedeath album filled with competent playing and some decent songwriting, but held back by a total lack of creativity and a nasty mastering job. If Bastard Grave had emerged a few years ago I might have mustered some more excitement, but the large number of superior releases in this genre over the past few years, not to mention Grave and Unleashed‘s excellent recent records, makes What Lies Beyond feel pretty superfluous.