It’s been some time since I’ve got ahold of a death metal promo. Not because I don’t like death metal but I’m usually drawn toward something a little more me from one week to the next. But, after reading the description of Bastard Grave‘s sophomore release, Diorama of Human Suffering, I felt that I had to check it out. For one, Bastard Grave hails from Sweden, which is the home of some of my favorite death metal releases. Classics like Entombed‘s Left Hand Path and Dismember‘s Like an Everflowing Stream, as well as Grave‘s entire catalog, warm my sad, little heart. The riffs, the vocals, and the pace—which feels like treading through knee-deep mud—grip me like quicksand. Second, Bastard Grave have a female bassist. Hmmm… like Bolt Thrower, you ask? Are Bastard Grave a Swedish Bolt Thrower?! Because that would be sick.
They’re not. But, you know, that’s alright. Though our esteemed alum, Jean-Luc Ricard, had few positive things to say about Bastard Grave‘s debut, What Lies Beyond, one can only hope for improvement in a genre as saturated as Swedeath. One thing that has improved on this new release is the production. Remember that female bassist I was telling you about? Yeah, she’s nowhere to be found on What Lies Beyond. But, on Diorama of Human Suffering, she’s everywhere. Another change—for better or worse—are the vocals. If you read Jean-Luc‘s writeup—and the comments—the Asphyx-y vocal rasps of Beyond were his favorite. If you agreed, I’m sorry, they’re gone now. Replaced, instead, by deep, guttural barks akin to Grave. I’m not saying they’re bad. I’m only warning you before you walk into the Diorama expecting the Beyond.
But, like it’s predecessor, there’re still a handful of highlights, an interesting piece or two, and plenty of filler on Diorama. The headbangable bunch are the opener (“Life in the Sewers), the title track, and “Non-Functioning Pile of Rot.”1 All three wallow through paths of thick mud, blood, and urine2. And all have that unmistakable Swedeath groove that initiates long, deliberate headbangs. The opener and title track contain mid-song lulls that slingshot the song back into its original riffage, while “Diorama of Human Suffering” keeps things moving with a pleasing, yet effective, bare-bones mentality. But what I like about “Life in the Sewers” and “Non-Functioning Pile of Rot” are sick and twisted Autopsy vibes. The kind that feels like getting stalked down a dark alleyway. All three tracks are effective and enjoyable, even if there’s nothing new in the songwriting.
Beyond these album crushers, bassist Maria gets a spot in the front row of the more interesting piece on the album: “Transubstantiation into Feces”3 Opening and closing this song with the stalking, bass-led Autopsy tones, “Transubstantiation into Feces” is the only track on Diorama that mixes up the compost. Not that adding some bass leads to the mix is anything to get exciting over but it’s enough to make the song stand out from the others. The rest of the album contains by-the-numbers Swedeath cuts. “Drowning in an Ocean of Bile” is a quick ‘n’ dirty punch to the face that doesn’t have a whole lot in the way of substance. And its twin, “Inner Carnivore,” has even less. “Translucent Visions” and “Madness of Creation” have that Swedeath groove but not much else and closer “Stench of Infection” has me wondering why we didn’t stop at “Non-Functioning Pile of Rot.” At a mere thirty-seven minutes, I still think the closer needed cutting.
Though the production of Diorama gives it more bite and dynamics than its predecessor, Diorama of Human Suffering is another day in the deathly realm of Sweden. Even more so than on the debut. Ditching the raspier vocals for hellhound barks, as well as abandoning the Asphyxiating At the Gates-like riffs for more of the Gravely, Autopsy‘d darkness, Diorama is a portal to the ’90s. Unfortunately, only a couple tracks will stand the test of time, while the rest of the album will find itself in the pile of last decade’s mediocre Swedeath records.