Listening to Seagrave begets the age-old question: is it better to try something new and fall short, or rehash the same bullshit until we’re all shitting bowls of Iommi riffs and bleeding ‘retro-death metal’ CDs from every orifice? For me, I tend to prefer the new and fresh to the ‘done-before,’ which is why Seagrave‘s unique genre description caught my eye. Formed in 2014 as the solo project of vocalist J.J. of Austrian post-black metal outfit Harakiri for the Sky, Seagrave is J.J.’s attempt to combine “shoegazing black metal, melodic post-hardcore, and D-beat death metal.” Lofty ambitions, particularly for a vocalist whose main band has drawn comparisons to the pretty-boy black metal of Deafheaven. Does debut Stabwound measure up?
Well, yes and no. Stabwound is hardly a perfect album, but its sound is just as intriguing as J.J.’s description suggests. Harakiri‘s squeaky-clean post-black still carries through in the shimmering synth-like background leads and vaguely progressive black metal riffs, but the overall feel is less “washy” and more “rocking.” Thank the drumming – rather than soaring blasts, we have peppy, assertive beats, usually settling on the quicker end of mid-paced, and anchoring the music from drifting too far into Alcesty fuzziness. Not that J.J. doesn’t draw inspiration from Neige: see the rainy-day melodies of mid-album highlight “Harvest in June,” or the opening clean notes of closer “Bonjour Tristesse,” which appear lifted straight from Les Voyages De L’Âme. In fact, Alcest may be the best point of comparison here – imagine them mixed with the punky black metal of Cara Neir; or, if anyone remembers Amesoeurs, Neige’s depressive rock/black metal group that split up back in 2009, this sounds like that project pushed to its heaviest and most extreme (which, of course, is still not particularly heavy or extreme).
Still, J.J.’s re-imagining of shoegazy black metal into a less wishy-washy format is actually carried out fairly well, as tour-de-force opener “Pillage de Tombe” and aforementioned “Harvest in June” showcase best. With their Agalloch-inspired interludes, these tracks add some welcome loud/soft dynamics and emotional depth, using well-placed samples from the movies The Hours and Cold Mountain to convey a sense of longing and estrangement that’s matched by the music’s sorrowful feel.
Sadly, even at its most gripping, Stabwound feels more like a proof-of-concept than a fully realized effort. At 43 minutes, these tidy six tracks are nearly identical in length (except for “Manifest XII”), tempo, and structure, and even with a few “oh, that’s cool” moments like the gothic clean vocals that open “Manifest XII,” by album’s end all the feathery Les Discrets melodies, bright echoing interludes, and chugging buildups blend together in a pleasantly inoffensive mish-mash lacking memorable moments. Even J.J.’s emotional vocals, deep raspy shrieks that call to mind Agrypnie, get a tad monotonous with their unwavering pace and delivery.
Stabwound’s production follows the ‘good, not great’ trend. Interestingly, the drums sound the most crisp of any instrument and are pushed to the forefront, helping the rocking feel, while the guitars either shimmer in the background or – in the case of the heavier riffs – emerge closer to the front with a clean, vaguely mechanical buzz. The DR varies but maintains a respectable-enough 7, still offering enough breathing room for each element (with the exception of the bass).
Looking back, I feel I may have undersold Stabwound. At heart, it’s an inspired and enjoyable album that I’ll probably revisit at least a few times this year – but when it’s over, not much sticks. I suspect part of my lack of enthusiasm may be because I’ve worn this style out for myself over the years, and while it’s admirable that J.J. is finding new ways to push things forward, there’s still a whiff of unfulfilled potential here. Maybe I’ve just become an emotional husk – I’m sure genre devotees will eat this up, and if you’re one of them, this is absolutely worth a listen. Just don’t expect to see me in the T-shirt anytime soon.