Narthraal are very proud of the fact that they are the only band in Iceland using the Boss HM-2 pedal to produce their fat and filthy old school Swedish death metal sound. Attempting to replicate the classic chainsaw sound is a tall order and Narthraal have a lot to live up to. Screaming From The Grave is a debut album that unashamedly plonks itself in the heart of the early 1990s. Little in the way of uniqueness and pretension resides here. Narthraal have a vocalist, two guitarists, bassist and a drummer. They make dirty music for dirty people. This is meat-and-potatoes death metal with a melodic mustard dip. It’s hearty simplicity to warm the soul, although a diet of such stodgy simplicity may grow tiresome quick.
To continue the food analogies, bread-and-butter grooves writhe with boldness as opener “Death of the Undying” storms into action. Incessant drumming, sharp and quick paced guitar attacks, and deep frothing growls combine to decent effect. It storms, surges, and settles in the memory with insignificant impact. Second track “Screaming from the Grave” has that Jungle Rot caveman-esque simplicity. Like Extreme Championship Wrestling legend The Sandman, the song slams into existence, smashes cans of beer against its metaphorical head, punches you in the face, and then flees as blood drips down its gnarled face. It lacks subtlety, tact, and technical ability, but what it offers is raw aggression and instantaneous pleasure.
Grit and doomy heaviness come into play during “Million Graves to Fill” and “Envy.” The music slows to a putrid crawl reminiscent of Asphyx and Incantation. Its suffusion of muddy and suffocating sounds is a welcome entry into a rather uniform sounding album. Melody, however, is the main tool used to sharpen the Swedish-inspired attack. Chains of solos connected by snazzy drum fills and riff patterns increasing in tempo make up the final act of most songs. Conversely, “Descent into Darkness” opens with blood-warming soloing before an upbeat frenzy of interlocking riffs and ugly growls charges through the darkness. “Symbols of Hate” also contains decent progressions as two distinct riff-patterns battle for supremacy: one rooted in simple evilness and the other flecked with elements of melody. These diametrically opposing forces clash before a melancholy solo, as tender as a kiss from a unicorn, arrives from the fourth dimension to cast its subtle magic.
Though satisfying listening in the moment, the songs and their strong moments lack longevity. I partly attribute this to the strange production. The bass pedal sounds like its wrapped in marshmallow and sometimes the terseness of the drums disappears all together. Similarly, the bass makes its presence felt before vanishing when things get heavy, just like my father. There is a general sense of claustrophobia throughout, but not the uncomfortably welcoming sort. Songs often merge into one mushy amoeba, sapping the energy from the listening experience. Add to that some forgettable riffs – “Feed the Pig” is a sloppy example – and the largely uninspiring Gothenburg-lite “Worldwide Destruction” and you’ve got yourself an inconsistent album that cradles greatness and mediocrity in the same basket.
Final track “Dismember the Entombed” consists of lyrics made up of album and song titles from Dismember and Entombed. Narthraal are unashamedly open about their love for Swedeath and its quite endearing to see a band wearing their influences on their sleeve for all to see. However, they fail to replicate the atmospheric grit of the aforementioned bands. The second half of the song sounds like a knock-off “Left Hand Path.” As a whole – bringing in another wrestling analogy – Screaming From the Grave is like asking your mum for that cool new Hulk Hogan figure, but instead she comes home with a sort of deformed, zombie-like version named Hank Horgan, expecting you not to notice the difference. But I knew the difference, mum. I knew. Much of Screaming From The Grave feels like this. It has the features of the real thing plastered to its exterior but ultimately, it’s unrefined and hollow. Some moments, heck, even song songs, standout as being very good, however inconsistency strikes too regularly for this to stand as a strong album. Narthraal have promise, though. But so did The Sandman.