Grima – Rotten Garden Review

Atmospheric black metal. We all like to pretend we’ve had our fill. I fully expect to scroll down on this review to comments bemoaning lupine throne room infestations and the Snowy Forest Industrial Complex. I get it. Few things have worn out their welcome in the new millennium more than atmoblack and Bernie Sanders memes. But the fact remains that the sharp harshness of black metal and the soothing beauty of ambient passages go together like chocolate and peanut butter, and there are still plenty of artists treading the well worn wooded paths of this sound. Siberian Federal District denizens Grima play it better than most, and they dare you not to be swept away by icy winds on with their fourth full-length Rotten Garden. Does atmoblack still have something to offer in a post-pandemic world? That reminds me, there’s this great Bernie meme…

You may recall that Grima‘s 2019 offering Will of the Primordial tickled my fancy something proper with its accordion-infused blackened assault, and not a lot has changed in the band’s approach over the last, what’s it been, twenty years? Rotten Garden once again brings biting, melodic, keyboard-backed riffs, while vocalist Vilhelm still has one of the sharpest rasps in the business. Accordion features less this time around, and while that is a bit disappointing, it’s still well utilized in the title track and “At the Foot of the Red Mountains,” helping Grima stand out from the atmo crowd with a subtle Russian folk influence. Taking up the slack of the accordion is an increase in borderline symphonic synths, which gives Rotten Garden a slightly more polished sound than its predecessor.

Opener “Cedar and Owls” puts a strong foot forward, blasting immediately out of the gate with an urgent melodic riff backed by etherial keys. The guitars take every opportunity to tease out emotion with rousing transitions and late-song soaring theatrics. On cue at the halfway point, we’re taken on a subdued, pensive detour complete with bird calls — one assumes owls, but I’m no ornithologist — and a sudden quiet/loud payoff. And what a payoff it is. The keyboards switch to an organ-like sound that climbs almost into Spaghetti Western whistle territory while the guitars occupy that well-trod but affecting Cascadian doom-but-actually-black-metal ground. The keyboard/guitar interplay remains strong in cuts like the scorcher “Mourning Comes at Sunset” and the uplifting second half of “Rotten Garden,” which again features a dour organ as a backdrop to a blistering finale.

I can understand how some would find the atmo tropes in Rotten Garden a bit overpowering. There’re drawn-out, slowed down mid-song passages aplenty, the aforementioned bird sounds, as well as “Old Oak,” an obligatory guitar/piano interlude with rain samples that doesn’t contribute much. Personally, I find these executed well enough to be more than tolerable, but I do have a nit to pick with one aspect of their atmospheric side. The increased prominence of synths that edge toward the symphonic makes this, as I mentioned, a bit more polished than previous releases, and while that’s not quite a problem here, I could see it becoming one if the trend continues. I could also use a bit more of the accordion, which is one of the elements that keep Grima from being too generic. Thankfully, one of the other elements is a sharp, fully realized sound that stays melodic without sacrificing aggression, and that continues on Rotten Garden.

There’s no shortage of nature-minded black metal out there, especially of the atmospheric variety, but just because there’s a lot of it doesn’t mean its best examples don’t remain highly enjoyable, and Rotten Garden keeps Grima near the top of the scene’s wooded peaks. Besides, atmoblack is nowhere near the most tired subgenre of metal. That honor goes to OSDM.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Naturmacht Productions
Websites: grima.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/grimablackmetal
Releases Worldwide: January 22nd, 2021

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