Deathwhite have been playing it annoyingly coy for nearly 6 years now, releasing increasingly sophisticated music while steadfastly keeping their identities concealed. Grave Image is their sophomore full-length, and therefore a critical moment in their career of mystery. Their For a Black Tomorrow debut merged elements of goth, doom, and post metal with alternative rock, creating something unusual and highly compelling, and in the process nearly created a whole new type of mope rock. Back when I was absorbing Black Tomorrow and drafting the review, I was struck by the nagging feeling the band was just getting started on its musical odyssey and things would only get weirder. Grave Image fulfills that expectation, taking all the elements they’ve dabbled with previously and incorporating a slightly blackened edge, along with faint grunge elements to further complicate the listening experience. And you know what? It really works. Though their style is still frustratingly hard to define and becoming more so, with traces of acts like Swallow the Sun and Woods of Ypres sitting alongside Tool and Screaming Trees, the end result is once again very engaging. Most importantly, the band continues to showcase high level song writing skills and an innate ability to blend genres into something that still makes sense. With this many disparate ingredients baked into the sadboi cake, that’s no simple feat.
Opener “Funeral Ground” lays only some of their cards on the table, offering a dark, quasi-doom death song with a Swallow the Sun meets Woods of Ypres vibe and a palpably dark atmosphere. It’s quite beautiful too, full of cold, forlorn emotions and enough melancholy to crush an elephant’s rib cage. This uber morose style is the beating heart of the Deathwhite sound, but how they effectuate it shifts from song to song. “In Eclipse” brings heavier black metal accented riffs to the party even as the vocals double down on plaintive goth crooning not far removed from Morrisey. The strong writing makes the song stick despite the strange bedfellow influences and I’ve had this one snaking through my skull for weeks. Standout cut “Further from Salvation” Almost sounds like The Alan Parsons Project mixed with “Memory Remains” era Metallica and My Dying Bride, and yes, it truly works though it absolutely shouldn’t. I defy you to listen and not be impressed.
The album plays out like an adventurous painter using different color palettes to get to the same ultimate destination. “Among Us” features riffing that flirts with melodeath as the vocals provide a sort of droning homage to late period Katatonia, while “Words of Dead Men” sounds like Khemmis attempting alt-rock and letting Gavin Rossdale of Bush tackle vocals. Again, it’s gold, and you’ll be as perplexed as I was as to how and why. As if all that isn’t strange enough, closer “Return to Silence” has an unmistakable Pearl Jam vibe with whoever sings suddenly adopting a whole lot of Eddie Vedderisms (you will hear “Black” here whether you like it or not). Through all these twists and turns, the mood is kept entirely bleak and dour, and this would make a potent companion album to the new Dawn of Solace platter, as they’re both cut from the same depressive cloth, though they wear much differently.
At just shy of 49 minutes, the album does feel a mite too long by the end, but there isn’t a weak song that I would cut. There’s a nice flow to things and there are no big dips in quality from track to track. There’s less of a Tool influence this time out, but a slightly greater alt-rock vibe, yet this is offset by the black and melodeath edges. The singer, who I will refer to as Emo Boy, is growing into his role with each release. He sounds bigger, better and way more diverse here than he did on For a Black Tomorrow. His delivery shifts from track to track and you can’t help but be impressed by how versatile he’s become. I’d love to know who he is, but apparently that’s prohibited by his wife or day job boss. The guitar-work is also great, running the gamut of metal genres but always staying in the pocket and making things feel cohesive. This is a very talented band, and they’re getting better every time they resurface from Witness Protection.
Grave Image is a weirder, darker album than Black Tomorrow, with more elements floating in the ether. It’s also a slightly better, somehow more cohesive release with fewer weak spots, and shows the band taking that important step forward a successful sophomore opus requires. Deathwhite are doing something a bit different from anyone else and they’ve found their own niche sound. I have no idea what to expect from them next time, but you can bet I’ll be paying close attention and looking for clues. You can’t hide forever, guys. Steel always finds out.