Portuguese black metal had a bumper year in 2018 simply by virtue of the release of Gaerea‘s debut album called Unsettling Whispers, which ranged from very good to great. It may not have made the cut for my year-end list but it’s an accomplished listen which drags various blackened scenes from the past 25 years into its melting pot. The prospect of further Portuguese debutantes, masquerading under the name Graves, was therefore enticing and it was with interest1 that I selected Liturgia da Blasfemia from the promo pool. With but a single demo under their belts this represents their first foray into the world of fully-developed releases. How does it fare?
Allow me to manage your expectations from the outset: Liturgia is far from awful but is, ultimately, incredibly generic black metal. If you’ve experienced Norwegian black metal of the early 90s then you’ve experienced this. Instrumentally and in the songwriting, there aren’t any developments or progressions from the tremolo-picked riffs, blast beating drums, and overall whirlwind effect conjured by the stalwarts of the scene from over 20 years ago. There’s a harder melodic line in the guitars and slightly more bass in the mix than with said stalwarts but these guys hardly push out the boat which has been moored in this harbor for the span of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of releases. It only aids this point that the song titles (and presumably lyrics, although I don’t speak Portuguese) apparently have the quasi-religious connotations favored by much of the genre, with four of the nine tracks featuring the word “Golgot(h)a.” It would be a tough argument to sustain that Graves are clearly distinguished from their influences.
It would also be a tough argument to suggest that Liturgia exemplifies polished songwriting (or polished production… or polished performances… or polished anything, for that matter). This quality is the core of almost all music. Here, song structures are standard issue, with linear approaches and those which return to a central theme used. Save for “Sangrando en Golgota Parte 2” which was dynamic enough to merit a note in this regard as it shifts between sludgier leads, blackened blasting and hypnotic slower passages, there’s little done in how the songs are arranged to generate particular memorability or engagement. It’s also conspicuous that only “Sangrando en Golgota” and “Minha Alma Imolei em Golgota” feature transitions into a distinct concluding phase. Otherwise, most tracks just start, trundle along for a little while (thankfully, they tend to be short and snappy here) then stop. Leaving aside the aforementioned exceptions, most tracks end without a neat conclusion or anything to signify that the music is about to finish. Further, while some riffs are decent, individual tracks largely do little to distinguish themselves from their neighbors.
So while things are neither refined nor innovative, I find the lack of refinement earnest enough in the production. Liturgia utilizes a particularly rough tonal aesthetic, even for black metal; for example, the vocals employ a snarling bark which I enjoy. It also sounds as if the band recorded their instruments at varying distances from their microphones or with the volume knobs randomized as there is a strange mismatch of volumes between tracks. If unintentional, this only supports my view that these guys undertook this album earnestly but without thinking things through in great detail. If intentional, I note an admirable dedication to the craft of terribly produced black metal. In either case I am humored and would feel harsh being too critical.
Liturgia is the sound of a band which clearly admires black metal admiring black metal, but which also fails to distinguish itself in any substantive way. I do credit Graves‘s gloomy aesthetic and the commitment to their trade but there’s a lot here you could find elsewhere and with better quality. While undergrovnd aficionados may glean more and it is far from terrible, it is also far from essential.