If perhaps, you have had the misfortune of laboring through any of my previous reviews, you may have picked up on my shameless love of death metal. You may have also noticed I’m a little picky when it comes to that genre’s melodic side. There’s nothing insightful in my complaint – I just find a lot of it to be somewhat toothless, and death by gums is no way to go. As the years slip by, I have begun to place an increasing premium on songwriting as opposed to obvious extremity, but I’m still of the opinion that the “death” should come before the “melo.” Fellow Englishmen, Beyond Grace, know these tenets well, and if debut album Seekers is anything to go by, won’t be happy until we’ve all been consumed by an omnidirectional wave of death metal to bleed the brain and skin the soul.
What makes Seekers the unabashed success it most certainly is, is the melting pot of deathly influences that prime its molten core. Crushing by nature but progressive by design, the album manages to gather a range of extremes and manipulate them into a potent compound. Guitarist, Tim Yearsley, assails the record with forward-thinking time signatures and complex soloing that recalls a combination of Leon Macey and Ryan Knight. It’s the title track that sets the juggernaut in motion with a tasteful gothic intro before Yearsley’s neo-classical fretwork makes way for a cabal of tech-inspired riffs that wouldn’t be out of place on an Obscura record. Vocalist, Andy Walmsley — sentinel stentorian and metal blogosphere prime-mover — menaces the record with a volley of wretched screams and guttural bellows; his presence is not to be underestimated, as his seething delivery permits the record much of its sense of urgency. The unsurprisingly cogent lyrics, honed from literary lions such as Jeff VanderMeer, Jeff Noon and Edgar Rice Burrows, only serve to bolster the album’s polish.
“Oracles,” an early highlight, swaps some of the more complex arrangements for straight savagery, with skinsman Ed Gorrod, showcasing as much of a capacity for intelligent fills as pure blasting. There’s just enough deviation in the album’s tempo to allow my adrenal gland a chance at regeneration – “Altars (of Avarice)” swaggers in with a titanic groove before turning up the intensity and peaking with another impressive lead. Since the release of EP Monster, the band’s determination to push their creative boundaries is clear, with this new material infinitely superior. The punishing prog proclivities of “Black Math Ritual” neatly make a feature of Andrew Workman’s deft bass lines, managing to temper ferocity with ability. All while, “Acolytes,” a song that borrows from Decapitated‘s book of rhythmic intensity, wields enough crunch to reduce me to base elements. The contrast works to worrying effect.
There is absolutely no filler on Seekers, but some of the tracks do overrun, if only a little, slightly tipping the record into over-long territory. Though rare, the band sometimes hew a little too close to their influences — but considering Beyond Grace‘s ability to furnish their writing with pace-breaking passages and intersections of tasteful interludes, it’s hardly a fatal flaw. Even the mix is complimentary, with Walmsley’s vocals sitting on top but never overpowering the heft of the guitars, which, in turn, leave enough room for Workman’s amorphous bass, which manifests a sinister presence throughout Seekers‘ stay.
Seekers is as sophisticated a debut as they come, but what makes it so impressive is, despite its technical prowess and melodic delivery, it remains, at that crucial crux, a death metal record at heart. This is an album that wants to impress but needs to punish, and succeeds with aplomb. Although much of the structure is cerebral by design, the material still urges, above all else, to hammer me into form — exemplified in the appropriately titled closer “Omega Point,” which delights in its Frankensteinian capacity to host all the record’s idiosyncrasies in one signature sound. Beyond Grace have separated the wheat from the chaff by razing the whole damned field, and cemented the band as a highlight of 2017. A modern day Prometheus? Only time will tell, but most assuredly not one to be trifled with or missed.