The immense advertising campaign inadvertently carried out by certain English street signs notwithstanding, Dead End is a strange and largely uninspiring name for a death-doom band. A name like Paradise Lost brings to mind Milton’s epic poem about the Fall of Man, Katatonia suggests an inescapable numbness, and My Dying Bride evokes a mental horror show. Dead End, on the other hand, brings to mind seeing a sign that means I have to make a three-point turn before I reach the end of the road I’m driving on. I don’t exactly enjoy three-point turns, but they certainly don’t fill me with dread. But we shouldn’t kick a band to the curb just because of a somewhat lacking name. Instead, we should drive towards the curb, turn towards the opposite curb, and drive back towards the Dead End and give Reborn from the Ancient Grave a fair shot.
When the words “Dutch” and “death-doom” are put together, the mind immediately jumps to the legendary Asphyx, and for good reason; they’re the most recognizable voice of this style coming from the Netherlands. Dead End represents a different side of the same coin, trying to merge the pulverizing nature of Asphyx with the melancholic moodiness of Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride. As on The Rack, a variety of tempos are used but everything is kept in the gloom of doom. The leads tend to follow in the Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride vein of highly personal misery but occasionally veer into an Eric Daniels style of sinister yet slightly sorrowful melodies. Vocally, Bryan Boorsma sounds a good bit like Nick Holmes on The Plague Within, but clean vocals don’t make an appearance in any of the songs here.
Album centerpiece “Mea Culpa” sees Dead End in solid form, finding the sweet spot between My Dying Bride and Asphyx by being at once punishing and personal with memorable riffs to back up the melancholy. “Dead End (Reborn)” is a great introduction to Dead End in 2016, and its energetic unhappiness is executed well in the vein of Paradise Lost’s faster newer material with the requisite catchy, weepy leads included. While the growled count-in is nothing short of ridiculous, “Another Weakness” is plodding and crushing with a noticeable Finnish influence and has some of the best overall riffing on Reborn from the Ancient Grave. It also refrains from using the Paradise Lost/My Dying Bride leads that reliably pepper the majority of the record, which when combined with the quality of riffing on display makes for one of the standout tracks.
It’s easy to like what Dead End is doing here, but it’s hard to do more than like it. This is serviceable death-doom, not often more and rarely less. It’s catchy, well-executed, and is the ideal combination of heavy and sad. The problem is, there’s just nothing to elevate Reborn from the Ancient Grave above the level of good at any point. Perhaps it’s the perpetual reminders of the legendary bands mentioned above, or perhaps it’s odd songwriting oversights like “Nails of the Martyr” having growling over a delicate section that sounds like it should have clean vocals or none at all sandwiched between some solid riffs with a whiff of Bolt Thrower. No matter the cause, I found myself contented instead of truly impressed with the music here. This is a stable, reliable, and fairly enjoyable slab of death-doom without frills or nonsense. It’s analogous to a decent, reliable beer that’s not too filling, not too hoppy, not too alcoholic, not too expensive, and not too special; it’s what you reach for when you just want to enjoy something without trying too hard within certain given parameters.
Dead End chose to apply an excess of polish to Reborn from the Ancient Grave, and in turn the record comes across as sounding rather plastic and leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Bass is not as massive as it sounds like it should be, and the drums are well-played but utterly bland in sound; the production here can be adequately described as modern in the pejorative sense. Nonetheless, lacking production doesn’t negate the satisfactory music found here. My dozen or so listens to this record yielded contentment, enjoyment, and an overall decent time, no more and no less. I’d be fine with hearing it again, but I’d be just as fine listening to a different death-doom record instead. There are plenty of good moments throughout Reborn from the Ancient Grave, but there are no compelling reasons to listen to this over any other decent death-doom album. There are no compelling reasons to avoid this either, so I can recommend this in a reserved way, but nothing more; on the upside, nothing less either.