Everybody has a desert island album, but if I were to pick a desert island scene, it would have to be Australian metal.1 For music that’ll satisfy you for the rest of your wretched life, look no further than the iconic blackened thrash of Deströyer 666 and Gospel of the Horns, the guilty pleasure metalcore of Parkway Drive2 and Feed Her to the Sharks. Or the subject of today’s discussion, the almighty Nocturnal Graves. Formed in 2004 as the pet project of Jarro Raphael (Coffin Lust, Impious Baptism, ex-Deströyer 666), the band’s 2007 debut Satan’s Cross is one of my favorite extreme metal albums to emerge from Down Under, bursting with frantic riffs and vicious half-time thrash breaks that helped turn a younger Mark Z. into a staunch believer in all that is cvlt. 2013 follow-up …From the Bloodline of Cain was likewise a great record that heralded the addition of two Denouncement Pyre members and fellow D666 alum ‘Shrapnel’ to the lineup. Five years later, Graves have joined with Season of Mist for third full-length Titan, but will the band be able to continue their
killing winning streak?
First off, one should know that Titan represents a stylistic shift for the band. In the five years spent working on other projects, Graves have evidently decided to move past the relentless blackened thrash of their youth, opting instead for a sound that’s slower and more restrained. Sure, some of the band’s thrashy roots remain — look no further than “Roar of the Wild” and “Soul’s Tribulation” for that – but overall the tempo is more measured, and even the faster songs break up their staccato riffing with bouts of downtempo dirges.
In some ways, Graves make this work. Opener “Resistance” strides forth on an enormous marching riff that serves as a powerful entrance, and while it’s a little long at nearly seven minutes, the track bristles with the sense of warlike conviction that only an Aussie metal band could conjure. Likewise, the production proves “raw” doesn’t always have to mean “sounds like shit,” with clear but potent guitars and drums that sit nicely in the mix. The solos ring with striking melody and plenty of whammy bar whaaing, and overall the sound is just as fierce and unabashedly ‘metal’ as you’d expect from a group that hails from the same stomping grounds as Vomitor. Raphael also does an excellent job behind the kit, smoothly moving between blasting, rolling fills, and slower rhythms without ever sounding too busy or disjointed.
It’s a shame, then, that much of Titan feels like a slog. “Ecdysis, Shedding Weak Flesh” slows the tempo down considerably in the first half, plodding along on mediocre riffs for six minutes without ever picking up energy or settling on a truly notable idea. “And Hell Followed Them” is likewise a largely mid-tempo affair, and while its sharp intervals are decent, overall the track feels quite similar to follow-up “Bow Before None.” Even the drony opening chords of “Resistance” feel like the dullest black metal imaginable, and while Raphael’s raspy vocals are serviceable, they possess none of the sheer bloodthirst of past records. It’s also disappointing how none of these 8 tracks break into one of the group’s iconic half-time thrash breaks, though aforementioned “Bow” makes a paltry attempt at that with a few sections of crunchy chugging.
Titan may not be a bad album, but it sure isn’t a great one. In the past Nocturnal Graves sounded predatory and downright venomous, today’s iteration of the band is marred by unremarkable vocals and general lethargy. The slower tempos didn’t have to be a bad thing, but it seems Graves are simply a less interesting band now that they’ve largely left their wild energy behind. Sure the construction isn’t bad, with the better songs spread evenly throughout and the title track providing a nice epic conclusion, but even the standouts here aren’t on the level of the better tracks from previous albums. A few decent riffs and a solid production aren’t enough to bring this up to high standard the band have set for themselves, and while I don’t know if I’ll expunge Titan from my collection entirely, it’s hard to see myself reaching for this over the great albums that have already emerged from the Australian scene.