Much like their country
men country people fellow Austral beings in Portal, the only thing Grave Upheaval cherish more than cavernous production is their own obscurity. This could be because Portal, Impetuous Ritual, and Grave Upheaval are the cast of a half-dozen shadowy musicians. Call them kvlt, call them private; the result is the second Grave Upheaval album once again untitled and once again filled with indecipherable moaning, squealing terrors and suffocating doom-death. There are some, or rather, many, who shun this style of hyper-kvlt doom death (known as “cavernous death metal” to men who have worn cloaks in public and “caverncore” to anyone else), but I am not one of them. Some will say it’s just the result of basement-produced one-man black metal acts of the past switching genres since black metal is cool now, and there may be truth to that. But there’s also truth to the sound itself; the murkiness and obscurity just really do it for some people, and after successful runs at the style by Portal and Chthe’ilist grabbing my attention in the past few years1, I count myself among those who say caverncore but still seek out the stuff.
There’s something timeless about tremolo picking at eight times the tempo of your drummer, just as there’s a certain joy in hearing drawn-out power chords played through an amp cabinet rapidly delaminating its own plywood. Combine the two and the resulting colossus is unstoppable — with the advantage of not being something you’d want to stop anyway. Atonal, scrambling guitar solos pair well with that main dish (though this album only has one), as do indecipherable vocals. You know the drill by now.
If you find Impetuous Ritual in the least bit tedious, Grave Upheaval aren’t your thing. The pace of this album is far slower than Blight Upon Martyred Sentience or what have you, and though the murk is turned down from eleven to nine, the record lives off of atmosphere and best rewards patience. As with other caverncore releases, Untitled takes pride in production idiosyncracies which hearken back to the good old days when people knew fuck all about how to record and mix death metal but had to do it anyway. The drums sound as if only recorded by overhead mics, with crackling cymbals and popping toms at the fore and snare and kick trailing somewhere deep below. The bass is experienced not within the ear but in the back of your throat, and it takes a hearty cough indeed to dislodge the feeling once you’re through with the album. The melodic content of the album resides almost entirely within the tremolo-picked guitar lines; bass and drums toil below in the agony which stirs a hissing, moaning voice.
As the album brushes across uncertain topographies, it never snags or gouges, coasting over a thick layer of ash and grime. Its movements are deliberate but not labored; the mind at the center of this tumult is a calm one, but its thought harbors little more than protracted suffering. Individual songs pass by without comment, and though the compositions of Untitled hardly stick in the memory, that morpheous flavor is just the point. The id of death metal commands these passages, unchallenged and unclothed.
As much as I want to make fun of Grave Upheaval‘s aesthetics, the trvth is that I should just give up and buy a cloak already. The musicians behind the whole Impetuous–Portal–Upheaval project know what they’re doing and have demonstrated so time and time again. Untitled captures the hellish and obtuse spirit of death metal and wrings the blood from it, sloppily devouring the fluid as it spills from each pummeled skin and plucked string. That being said, the avant-garde ambitions of Portal and the crazed pace of Impetuous Ritual offer much more interesting listening experiences than the staid repetition of this album. Grave Upheaval have a chilling command of their aesthetic, but very little to say by means of it. The grim atmosphere has been reduced to a science by these bands, and when you’re really pining for that atmosphere, it’s hard to go wrong with any of the three. But if you want to really appreciate composition or performances, this is not the album to reach for.