Writing press releases for regular ol’ death metal must be a tedious job. Brutal only has so many synonyms, and it seems every fifth album that comes out is supposed to rip my face off or dig out my entrails with a rusty melon baller. My face is still here, I’ve never touched either end of a melon baller, and death metal reliably carries on, producing such a glut of material every year that we can realistically devote meaningful time to maybe ten percent of it. Grave Ritual presents us with their sophomore full-length Morbid Throne in hopes that those with a fondness for death and decay will find a place in their hearts and schedules for their tried-and-true brand of butchery.
If the words Grave Ritual bring an old style of death metal to mind, these guys chose a good name. Playing Incantation influenced death metal, the band incorporates some Autopsy and Cianide into the mix, axing Incantation‘s more complex elements and arrangements in favour of plowing full, half, and quarter speed ahead with simpler riffs that double down on heaviness. R.E.’s guitar takes the reins with gusto, with J.B.’s tasteful drumming embracing a supporting role that doesn’t diminish his talents in the slightest. R.E. also handles the vocals, a fairly one-dimensional mid-range growl that serves as an element of rhythmic intrigue instead of a focal point, wisely keeping the focus on riffs. That’s good, because this riffing also brings some Celtic Frost and Bolt Thrower influence to the table as side dishes; the mash beside the steak if you will. This is something I refuse to complain about on any level.
Keeping with that theme, “Tyrant’s Hammer” is well done, which although that’s totally wrong (everyone knows rare is the pinnacle of steak) it’s quite tasty. It’s pretty typical stuff but switches from modern Autopsy to mid-period Incantation convincingly, creating plenty of headbanging fodder with riffs that act like pieces of a puzzle and fit snugly together. The beginning of “Lewd Perversities” isn’t black metal but sounds close to Anaal Nathrakh‘s “The Lucifer Effect” before promptly switching to a series of riffs and melodies that sound a lot like Disma. Given that Disma makes great death metal, Grave Ritual‘s competent take on the style makes for good material. “Masters and Slaves” is Morbid Throne‘s big winner, and not just because it may or may not be G.W.F. Hegel-core. Its main riff is busy yet catchy a la the bridge of “Criminally Insane” and is spun off into other good related riffs. It’s not phenomenal but it has spirit, and the sensible yet punishing songwriting has elements of the philosophy of how to do death metal right. Good songs are good songs, and this is where Grave Ritual succeeds.
It’s also where they falter. On the one hand, there’s nary a bad song present. For thirty-two minutes I was treated to solid Incantation influenced death metal seasoned with the simpler elements of the death metal scene of old. The production is dynamic, which makes this platter enjoyable to play loudly and listen to closely. On the other hand, once the dust clears after “Throne of Continuum” ends, I’m satisfied. Morbid Throne meekly offers me the possibility of hitting play again instead of demanding it. I have nice things to say about it, but it’s not near the top of my list regarding death metal as a whole or even of the specifically murky variety. Songs like “Autonomous Death” and “Invoker of Heathen Gnosis” are examples of how to do this style unceremoniously right, enough to enjoy but not to get overly excited about. The riffs are different degrees of memorable but not unforgettable, automatically relegating Grave Ritual to competent death metal that keeps its head above water but doesn’t make it to the famed desert island where the necessary records reside. It’s finely crafted and enjoyable in the least imposing way, not wasting your time but not necessitating it either.
Did Grave Ritual disappoint me? No. Did Morbid Throne entertain me? Yes. Can I recommend it? That depends. If you’d like to add another decent teammate to your eternal march onward to Golgotha, it’ll do just fine. If you’re particularly discerning, you can do better but you can also do worse. These types of records are the most difficult to review and score, as while I had no objections listening to Morbid Throne multiple times I was equally fine with moving on to something else upon its conclusion and shelving it for an indefinite amount of time. This is good death metal, no more, no less. If you’ve got room for that you won’t be disappointed. If you don’t, you won’t be missing a crucial record in the genre.
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Dark Descent