Victor Griffin’s In-Graved // Victor Griffin’s In-Graved
Rating: 4.0/5.0 — Doom meets VROOM!
Label: Svart Records
Release Dates: EU: 2013.03.22 | NA: 03.26.2013
As a long time fan of American doom pioneers Pentagram, I’ve been an admirer of Victor Griffin’s playing and his bluesy, but street-tough style. Sure, he borrowed a lot of his sound from Tony Iommi, but he made it his own by mixing it with the sound of Cream-era Clapton and a touch of Hendrix. When he left Pentagram, their stock dropped precipitously, and when he returned for their Last Rites opus, everything was right in the doom world again. I enjoyed most of the material from his Place of Skulls outing, so when I heard of the new Victor Griffin’s In-Graved project I expected solid results, which this delivered, along with a few surprises. You see, instead of simply cranking out more American doom, Victor chose to revisit the style of his little known 2004 solo album Late for an Early Grave where he tried to merge his doom style with outlaw biker rock (most of those songs were written way back in the 80s). In the process he’s found a sonic sweet spot and In-Graved sounds like a pleasant mash-up of Pentagram, Trouble, Wino‘s solo work, Black Label Society, Fireball Ministry and 70s bluesy hard rock. That means plenty of the trademark Griffin riffing infused with healthy doses of biker rock and The Doors to give it added swagger and badassery. While it’s not a doom metal album in the traditional sense, it’s an endearing and addictive hard rock platter close enough to modern-day Pentagram to satisfy most doom fans, and the 70s hard rock influences feel more organic and authentic than on all those “’70s occult rock” albums.
Right from go, you get Victor’s comforting, old school doom chug on “Digital Critic” and the sound and structure are quite like the Last Rites material. As a vocalist, Victor has a nicely commanding bark/croon and although he’s a bit limited, he knows how to wring maximum impact from his vocals. Though it’s a very straight ahead rocker, the Hammond organ pumping away in the background (courtesy of original Trouble drummer, Jeff Olson) adds an interesting dimension of mood and sound. The same musical approach underlies “What If,” but Victor’s riffing is more rocking, bluesy, groovy and stuck in the ’70s, even reminding a bit of Kyuss at times.
The first big moment arrives with “Late for an Early Grave,” which is a reprise from his 2004 solo album. While he loses points for recycling material, the song is a great old school rocker and it gets a much more full, satisfying treatment here. It’sthe quintessential anthem for youthful angst, rebellion and the need to break away and find one’s place in the world. The lyrics are simple, but are sure to hold meaning for anyone who had some hard knocks in life, and when Victor bemoans the fact “I’m older now, but lost as ever,” it feels very honest. “Fading Flower” borrows hugely from Wino’s solo work and Victor uses the darker mood to uncork some of his best, most emotive playing, full of Hendrix-style funk and blues. His playing here is one of the album highlights and keeps me coming back.
Other moments of note include the simple, but honest ’70s flavor of “Teacher,” the powerful and emotional vocals and playing throughout “Love Song for the Dying,” and the super catchy, anthemic rock of “Never Surrender” (also taken from his ’04 solo album). Every song works and the album has a nice flow. It gets better as it goes on and there’s a startlingly sincere and authentic feeling to the material that defies easy description. For lack of a better word, it feels real, and that in turn feels refreshing.
Aside from Victor’s fine playing, he surprises with the conviction in his vocals on tracks like “Late to an Early Grave,” Fading Flower” and “Love Song for the Dying.” His soulful, but edgy croon works for many of the same reasons Wino’s always has and Victor manages to channel that same gruff charm along with some of Zakk Wylde’s hoarse roars. To flesh out the band, Victor chose wisely with Guy Pinhas (The Obsessed, Acid King) on bass and Peter Campbell (Place of Skulls, 60 Watt Shaman) on drums and together they create a solid foundation on which Victor builds some great songs. Putting the finishing touch on the product are the tasteful and understated organ runs by Olson, which add the perfect 70s flavor to the riff-driven compositions.
The biggest knock against In-Graved is the fact that two of the best songs are taken from his unheralded ’04 album. While it smacks a bit of cheating, the fact is, both songs are worthy, sound way better here and are now exposed to a much wider audience (hopefully). I can’t fault him too much for that.
In-Graved brings to fruition the concept Victor first began molding more than twenty-five years ago, and it proves well worth the wait. If you like American doom or hard rock with a ’70s flavor, this is the stuff. Even if you don’t, you can’t go wrong with a disc full of catchy, beer drinking music full of attitude and balls. Play it along with Last Rites and you’re onto something really good.