In my college years I voraciously consumed odd books, tearing through everything from Might is Right to Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible to the bizarre psychic writing experiment that was W.B. Yeats’ A Vision. In the end few ideas stuck with me, save for some strange thoughts which eventually manifested themselves in a dream about a philosophical treatise called “The Antichthont Cycle” written by none other than Deicide‘s own Glen Benton.1 In a weird way Italian death metal band Gravesite conjure a similar feeling. On 2015 debut Horrifying Nightmares…, the quartet excelled at slinging riff after riff at the listener, offering an experience that was enjoyable but didn’t always stick. Nevertheless the record impressed me enough with its lurching guitars and vintage horror creepiness that it narrowly escaped a Things You Might Have Missed writeup and a spot on my Year-End list. With sophomore full-length Neverending Trail of Skulls, I’m finally here to make the trek and reveal the sick world these former Undead Creep members have created.
It’s a Grotesque world, filled with the Repulsion one might feel after witnessing an Autopsy.2 In this way Trail is quite similar to Nightmares, with one important distinction: somewhere along the way the band either came down with rabies, developed a coke addiction, or just realized that playing crazier and faster would make for better music. Imagine if Entombed had a younger brother who was forced into isolation after Left Hand Path, only to emerge from his dungeon today after growing insane from two decades of picking his scabs and eating bat poo. Front to back Trail is like a 36-minute plunge into a musty crypt on a rickety mine cart, with only the battering drums keeping everything barely riveted together. The cart squeaks with slicing tremolos, rattles with crunchy power chords, careens on catchy chugs, and twists between devilish melodies that burst from seemingly every corner.
Though Trail is firmly rooted in pure death metal, the sheer relentlessness and frantic stop-starts almost make it feel like a grindcore or tech-death record. There aren’t really verses or choruses here – instead, Gravesite deliver a constant stream of wild riffs that are only broken by moments like the eerie music box intro of “Forced to Cannibalism” or the warped doomy tritones in “Atrophied Organs” and the opening title track. Nevertheless there exists some memorability. Early highlight “Coffin Birth” barrels forward on a delightful jabbing melody before descending into some ghastly harmonized leads, while “Global Disease Madness” rides a bobbing mid-paced chug garnished with addictive couplets. Later cut “Town of the Re-animated” maintains the quality with a foreboding sample from the film Dead and Buried and a rapid guitar lick that unfurls like a mutant’s head splitting open.
It’s all ghoulish fun, but at this point the biggest negative is probably obvious. Much like Nightmares, Trail is the kind of record you’ll headbang along to tonight but probably won’t be humming tomorrow morning. Fortunately this is redeemed by two facts: one, it’s still a goddamn blast; and two, frontman Graci’s vocals are absolutely berserk. Perhaps the only thing crazier than the guitars, Graci roars, growls, and gurgles with the maniacal inflection of Desaster’s Sataniac and the demented slurring of Obituary’s John Tardy. The man sounds downright insane, throwing in random screams and spewing out syllables like vomited alphabet soup. Along with the rapid whirling solos, he fits perfectly with the album’s frenzied pace.
But through it all, perhaps the most interesting thing about Trail is how hard it is to categorize. With a dusty yet modern production that eschews the Sunlight Studios guitar tone for a sharper buzz, Gravesite tread the line between the Swedish and the Florida scenes, feeling at once retro and yet also wholly contemporary. Perhaps the best example is closer “Swallowed in Darkness,” which follows its Atheist-esque opening with rapid tremolos that sprint forward as if in a last-ditch effort to finally find the end of this Trail of Skulls. Alas the Trail has no end, and we’ll follow it until we’re all driven mad by the darkness or start seeing visions of Glen Benton peddling cosmological theories. If that doesn’t scare you and you’re eager to get your hands dirty with some inspired and untamed death metal, rest assured Gravesite offer a great place for your inner maniac to lay his head.