Grabak – Scion Review

I was worried about the metal scene when the world shut down, but a simple glance at the promo bin quells any fear with the rapidity of lightning – if black metal is your poison. Yes, we’ve got our blackened heavyweights that we’ll keep arguing about at AMG Headquarters. But when I predicted that, like cockroaches, small-time black metal projects would emerge from the dust of a silent world to wreak blackened havoc on the underground, I was right. Caliber is another question entirely, but quantity over quality seems to be the name of the game. Will veteran black metal collective Grabak wreak big havoc or be squashed under the sole of my ruthless “JUST CUZ IT’S KVLT DOESN’T MEAN IT’S GOOD MMKAY” boot?

Grabak is a black metal quartet from Leipzig, Saxony, Germany. Having quietly amassed an immense catalog of two demos and six full-lengths since their 1995 inception, their sound has revolved around a collision of classic, melodic, and atmospheric black metal, enhanced by an ear for production. You’ve got your typical sinister shrieks, tremolo, and blastbeats, of course, but their uses of blackened tropes have hit a sweet spot throughout their career. Scion, their seventh full-length, hopes to continue this trend. While it offers an uneven listen, it nonetheless once again hits a sweet spot with a tasteful melodic element, stellar performances, and a solid production to boot.

One of Scion‘s elements, albeit unrefined, is its dynamic. The album kicks off with the emotive “Epitomes of Cruelty,” “Furia II – Weltenbrand,” and “Blutkelch,” which channel Ov Shadows or Collapse of Faith-era October Falls in emotional chord progressions and layers of melodic plucking and symphonic textures atop furious roars and powerful riffs. Closing tracks “Black Water” and “Echoing the Sound of Hell” utilize a doom influence that showcases an eerie ominousness through layers of ambiance and restraint. Throughout, drummer B.S.’s performance is a highlight, varying between rock-solid plods to furious fills and complex rhythms, while vocalist J.K. features an unholy shriek and a brutal Goatwhore-esque blackened roar. Guitarists C.L. and C.B. are adept at constructing textures and layers across the tasteful 34-minute listen, providing chunky riffs and scathing tremolo alike skillfully. Finally, the production is solid, favoring the layers individually and allowing free movement of the melodies and progressions.

While it’s clear that, similar to The Ocean‘s post-metal epic Pelagial, Grabak attempts an album-long dynamic from the heart-wrenching “Epitomes of Cruelty” to the mysterious “Echoing the Sound of Hell,” medial tracks “The Sirens’ Song,” “Heirs of the Serpent,” and “M.A.I.D. – My Art is Death” are lost in a bit of an identity crisis, stuck between emotional melodies and ominous textures and abruptly switching between them. Furthermore, “The Sirens’ Song” ends with obnoxious repetition, “Heirs of the Serpent” attempts a folky flavor and 6/8 rhythm to sloppy results, and “M.A.I.D.”‘s timing in riffs is jarringly brief. More skillful songwriting and clearer direction would benefit the meat of Scion‘s content, even if there are moments of clarity scattered throughout. Although more of a nitpick, J.K.’s vocals, albeit formidable, are a tad too loud in the mix, drowning out solid passages periodically.

Scion is ultimately a mixed bag. Its bookends are absolutely the work of professionals, and each member contributes heartily throughout. However, its middle portions feel underwritten and in need of fleshing for its overarching dynamic to work. Because of its inconsistent behavior and push toward album growth, it is difficult to gauge, but ends up being on this side of good, thanks to an impressive beginning and end. Sure, no big havoc to be wreaked here, but this lil’ cockroach gets a pass and a very small high five.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
LabelTalheim Records
Releases Worldwide: March 31st, 2021

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