We all have that/those musician(s) that prompts us to dig up every single project(s) they’ve ever been involved in. Call it fanboy/girl-ism or call it stalking… the name-tag’s not important… I went through a stage like that with Shining (Swedish). Whether Kvarforth sang on it, played an instrument on it or even if he just lip-synced his way through the endeavor – I wanted it on my playlist. And that’s how Gravdal came to be a part of my iTunes library. Hailing from the black metal capital of the world (Bergen, Norway), little-known Gravdal create an interesting blend of black and alternative metal with some progressive tendencies, focused on typical themes of satanism, murder, hate and depression. Their first album (Satanist) hit the basement shelves back in 2008 to a relatively warm reception, with their follow-up (Torturmantra), and my entry-point ,launching only two years later. It was the gorgeous construction of Torturmantra‘s “Mishandlet” (guested by, who else, Niklas Kvarforth), that roped me in. This past encounter with Gravdal, and hearing of guest appearances by members of Satyricon, Taake, SAHG, The Ruins Of Beverast, Seven Impale and Orkan along with lyrical contributions by V`gandr (Helheim and Taake) would seem to cement Kadaverin as a “must-hear” release. But does it?
Facing an extensive line-up shuffle since the release of Torturmantra, Gravdal sees founding member Phobos back on guitars alongside Saur (Dominanz), while Eld (Krakow and Aeternus) joins taking up vocal and bass duties, and Taakesjel continues at the kit. “Kadaverin” quickly demonstrates that Gravdal are a force to be reckoned with. Not only does the track successfully walk the line between melodic and pulverant, but it’s also memorable. The intro brings to mind elements of Shining‘s “Reflecting in Solitude,” building towards respectably raw but catchy riffing, reinforced with hoarse roars, and fiendish vocal effect. Instead of plying you with some rehashed guitar solo, the song offers up a sultry sax melody that’s not only disconsolate but also dynamic and in complete contrast to the rawness applied elsewhere. This salve provides similar relief on the back-end of the album, re-appearing in “Når noen tar farvel.”
Gravdal‘s output reads as though it’s been compiled by somebody afflicted with attention difficulty, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Instead of being a negative, the band uses this trait to their advantage, creating a slew of interesting hooks and enough vitality to keep you entertained. Take for example the dramatic shift from blasting black metal at the front-end of “Apostler av døden” to the clean vocal style and doomy Sabbath-like riffing applied over the mid-section of the same track. Or there’s the Ghost-like percussion pulling you into “Arkaisk kamp, angrip!,” the track quickly becoming more abruptly progressive, before settling into the blackened niche carved out by fellow countrymen, Vreid. And finally, the combination of Helmet inspired riffing used alongside the discordant soloing of American rock band Tool in “Inni menneskedyret.”
The high point of Kadaverin ends up being “Eklipse.” A song built around an isolated and clean vocal delivery, naturally accent drenched, and a sobering guitar melody. To describe it, the song itself falls in that niche between what Kvarforth released on the latter period Shining albums, and Watain‘s “They Rode On.” The track’s beauty is only further brought to the fore by the abrupt and harsh nature of “Roten til all ondskap” following so closely behind.
Kadaverin though a good album, is not without some fault. While the front half of the album flows with perfection, the concept drawing you in and keeping you entertained, the back-end could use some re-organization. Some momentum is lost with the bland nature of “Roten til all ondskap.” Had Kadaverin instead run with “Vi som ser i mørket,” followed by “Inni menneskedyret,” “Eklipse” and then finally played out with “Når noen tar farvel,” the impetus would have been more organic. It’s safe to say that Gravdal are making a concerted effort to re-energize the Bergen sound.