An interesting anecdote I saw told was a fine–art professor’s first exercise with his Master’s students. He shows them a Jackson Pollock painting, and asks them to write why it is good. After receiving the wonderfully pretentious responses, the professor reveals that the “Pollock painting” was actually his apron from his studio, hopefully teaching the students that there may be more to judging good and bad art than feelings. The Lurking Fear aims to channel this analogy into the realm of old–style death metal, hoping that listeners will hear their debut Out of the Voiceless Grave and marvel at this unearthed gem of the early 90s.
Being a supergroup featuring Tomas Lindberg, Adrian Erlandsson, and Jonas Stalhammar (among others), The Lurking Fear aims to look resolutely backward towards the green pastures of Death, Master, Autopsy, and Nihilist for their riffs. This makes for short songs, a whole bunch of thrash beats, and a healthy dose of crust enveloping the proceedings. Voiceless Grave wants to sound familiar, to trigger the nostalgia for the great metal of old while making it easily digestible at the same time through flawless musicianship and a hearty, well-rounded production.
As far as individual songs go, “Tongued with Foul Flames” is a winner, but it reminds me much more of Disfear and The Great Deceiver than classic death. “The Infernal Dread” seems to represent what The Lurking Fear was trying to achieve with the whole of Voiceless Grave, compellingly merging rollicking crust with early Dismember and a gnarly Autopsy worshiping bridge that’s simple and effective. Many other songs, as curious listeners will doubtlessly find, have plenty to enjoy in them as well, as there aren’t any real clunkers on offer here.
Given the sheer skill of the members involved, the competency and enjoyment don’t come as a surprise. Hearing these largely concise and well-written songs is a treat, but the old death metal is more of a facsimile than anything. This is a problem for a record billed almost incessantly as classic death metal, which is the curve it is to be graded on lest we embrace the “death of the artist” nonsense. This is all too structured, too meticulous, too perfect and too aware of itself as throwback instead of a freestanding project to stand a chance in the old-school arena. It’s fun enough, but it lacks that inimitable imperfection of the classics. Perhaps it’s due to vision, or more specifically the lack of a meaningful one. This sounds like a bunch of hyper–competent musical overachievers trying to emulate instead of create and quickly becomes rather a tasty comfort food. Voiceless Grave isn’t vital in any sense, and misses the point that Master and Autopsy were not trying to create “old-school death metal” on their great works; they had a musical vision and saw it through with blinders on. The Lurking Fear have a vision, and it’s celebrating old-school death metal by making something like it; they’re not, and this is crucial, following their own muse but merely imitating those of others. This is especially obvious in the core of the record, which is very similar to At the Gates. The songwriting appears to follow patterns well familiar to the members (their own muses) infused with the ideas of others to spice it up. It’s like a ready–made solution to writing songs in a new vein, and while not wholly objectionable overall it is outright inimical to greatness.
Voiceless Grave is a good imitation, but no more than that. It succeeds in being easily enjoyable and bringing nostalgia to the forefront, which as everyone knows is the most appetizing worm to critics next to “breaking the rules” or “innovation.” This record will be well-received and a lot of people, myself included, will enjoy its charms. Yet to call it anything more than “good” is folly because it’s not in the same league as its influences. More an “interest project” than a “passion project,” The Lurking Fear is an outlet for impulses that wouldn’t have made any of the members the important and influential figures they are today. Perhaps past victories are a fine excuse to rest on one’s laurels a bit (however competently), but that doesn’t mean we have to pretend Voiceless Grave is great because The Winterlong and At the Gates were. A fun but limited romp, it’s easy to like Out of the Voiceless Grave but much harder to recommend it for those looking for a true heir to top-tier classic death metal.