Metal has been extremely retro in the last 5 years. From rethrash to retro death metal, the whole scene has crawled into its proverbial ass in order to wallow in the digested remnants of metal music that is just plain better. Rethrash celebrates the 2.5 years when thrash was the heaviest and most exciting music on the planet. Retro death celebrates a time when bands would scrape together their last Swedish kronor to put a record together that would still sound like total shit. All the bands who wish they were Black Sabbath celebrate a time when amplifiers didn’t actually have overdrive. But all of these celebrated sounds appeal to us because they were authentic: times when newness and creativity gave the world something exciting and special. One such scene for me is the melodic death and black metal scenes of the Scandinavian 1990s. It’s an era when metal was heavy, engaging, abstract, and yet melodic—it felt exciting and new. While not all of the best ideas from this era were executed perfectly at the time, it laid the groundwork for the late ’90s and the early aughts when great metal bands produced great music.
With that background in mind, you should understand what I mean when I popped into Dreamgrave‘s SoundCloud site to listen to the first track on their debut album Presentiment and thought: “Man, this sounds like the fucking ’90s.” It wasn’t really the sound, per se—though admittedly there are a lot of different sounds that one can mix and match when you’re listening to the album—but instead, it oozed passion, tension, excitement and that elusive x factor that so often feels missing from records I review these days. Presentiment has it all in spades: a unique sound, varied writing, excellent melodic presentation, progressive tendencies and the best beauty-and-the-beast vocal duet since Ásmegin‘s Hin vordende sod & sø on opener “Black Spiral.”
The best way to describe Dreamgrave‘s music is likely to say: listen to it yourself. That’s not a cop out, though, it’s a compliment. It’s a compliment for a band that does such a great job of straddling a variety of sounds and influences. Presentiment‘s smattering of different influences is only less impressive than their ability to blend them into a cohesive whole. Opener “Black Spiral” sounds like Ásmegin‘s stellar debut while moments on “The Last Drop Falls” and “False Sense of Confidence” evoke both Unexpect, Diablo Swing Orchestra, Old Man’s Child and Orphaned Land. This wide variety of influences sounds like it should be scattered or difficult to fuse, but whether rocking My Dying Bride doom, Opeth 6/8 swing, or Anathema ethereal vocal harmonies, Dreamgrave shows a mastery of composition and balance. There are moments that remind me of old school Children of Bodom (“False Sense of Confidence”) and there’s even keyboard tone that reminds me of Saviour Machine—if anyone remembers them.
However, don’t misunderstand me: Dreamgrave is no retro-’90s band. While much of this is feels like putting your feet into a comfortable pair of old shoes, there’s still something more here. Dreamgrave has chops. The songwriting is lively, inventive, and playful, showing a tendency to think laterally while moving between the dour and doomy to the heavy and occasionally even downright black or full-on jazz. The vocal interplay between Mária Molnár and growler/singer Dömötör Gyimesi flows throughout the record and adds layers of interest onto what is already layered and interesting. The song and vocal arrangements are evocative, powerful, and technically impressive—wandering through complex time signatures and lacing them together into epic songs. But there is also a sense of balance on Presentiment; things are in their place, and epic turns never feel forced—it all fits perfectly.
Critically, I have two major points: while the production is very good for what it is—especially given that it is a self-released album—the record could sound better. An even more “naturally” acoustic sound at times with an even broader dynamic range would make this material sparkle. And since there is no label breathing down Dreamgrave‘s neck about being “competitively loud,” this shouldn’t be an issue. This record is essentially a DR5, though there are tracks that clock in higher1. This is just completely unnecessary. Secondly, while the vocals for me are a strength, there are moments here and there where I think some of the harmonies, phrasing and vocal lines show off that this is not a professional band working with a top-notch producer. In the very opening strains of “Black Spiral” are a couple of strange things that sound a bit off, and the cleans around 5 minutes in “Presentiment” have some strange mismatches that don’t sound intentional or artful. In a record that seems so extremely well performed and produced, these small moments really do offer a distraction that kills immersion.
But these points are hardly deal-breakers: Presentiment is a great record from an emerging and exciting band. Hailing from Hungary, I’m not sure Dreamgrave has much of a scene to speak of, but due to the glories of the Internet they have been able to self-release a digital record that will hopefully get them noticed. If you’re a fan of eclectic, progressive death and doom metal, this is a band to watch and a record to buy.