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Something I’ve come to understand about Melbourne’s Gravemind is that their music is much like an onion, as in it has many layers. This was somewhat true for their highly mediocre debut EP, ‘The Hateful One’, was later very evident on their banging Aztecan blood-letting single ‘The Death Of Teyolia’, and is now very true regarding their damned solid second EP, ‘The Deathgate’.
See, on the surface level, you’ve got the music itself – the kind of heavy, brutal deathcore songs that you could easily bang your head and mosh along to. On the second level down, there’s the release in question’s conceptual narrative; a trend that these local metallers change up on every release and is something that’s setting them apart from their peers. Then on the third and final level of Gravemind’s art exists the emotional, personal topics that vocalist and lyrical/conceptual mastermind Dylan Gillies-Parsons wishes to portray.
So, firstly, can you mosh and crowd kill to the six songs housed within ‘The Deathgate’? Sweet merciful fuck, could you ever! With these tasty half-dozen tracks, the Gravy boys adhere to all of deathcore’s songwriting ideals and tropes, yet they’re also keenly aware of how to double-down and make the absolute most of their genre while also understanding how to get the best out of what is a gruesomely tired formula. Coupled with a great production and mix, their breakdowns are tastefully used throughout, their monstrously heavy moments of slick, techy-riffs, crushing grooves and blast beating are well placed, and their song flow and song structure is spot-on. All meaning that your interest levels won’t be pulverised into fucking boredom before the first song ends.
To say that Gravemind’s guitarist and main songwriter, Damon Bedin, has no doubt hit the nail right on the head with this new EP would be a gross understatement.
However, as for the conceptual narrative present – Gravemind’s second level, for those paying attention – I think this is actually the weakest link of ‘The Deathgate’. It’s the one and only criticism I have with this new release; the sole thing that keeps this tightly wound EP at a highly recommendable 82/100 for me but not any higher.
‘The Deathgate‘ follows the tale of an astronaut stranded on a hazardous alien planet and his journey through the “Deathgate” (both a metaphorical and literal motif) in order to get back home and save himself. The first two songs, the epic opener of ‘Eschaton’ and the impactful, emotionally-tinged eponymous track, are from our explorer’s perspective of this alien world and our protagonist’s interpretations of “The Deathgate” itself. The remaining four songs are about our character’s journey to/through/from this titular cosmic phenomenon, their letting go in order to move forward, their supposed eventual return home (or at least, them finding some form of salvation), and their greater understanding of mankind’s actions and fallacies courtesy of their hardships and inter-dimensional travel.
The science fiction and cosmic horror concept of discovering alien worlds, astronauts/explorers being cast out into an unknown ever-expansive environment, battling with and against ideas and beings forever beyond full human comprehension is a thematic setup I fuck with immensely. And it’s something that lends itself well to metal bands like Gravemind. However, this EP’s overall story of an astronaut being stranded on this John Carpenter’s The Thing-esque world, what they do to survive in such a hostile climate and how such an experience greatly affects their mind and beliefs, when put into the band’s musical framework and lyrical format… just isn’t as involving or as interesting as I’d initially hoped. Definitely not at the full cost of these six song’s overall strong quality, but it’s just not to the degree I had wished it’d be. Perhaps I had the incorrect expectations coming in since ‘The Death Of Teyolia‘ (as an artistic whole) had such a clear-cut narrative arc from beginning to end for its vengeful heroine – from the actual music to the lyric video and that stunning comic book. Whereas this EP, which is obviously spread out over more than just one single, is centred more about the aftermath of our protagonist experiences from the Deathgate and what they then come to understand and acknowledge about humanity, our society, life, and death; the what and where rather than the who and the why.
Which provides a vehicle that, admittedly, really allows for Gillies-Parsons to dig deep into his own beliefs about our current shit-show of a world (the scathing lyrical critiques of modern life ‘Anaesthesia‘ and ‘Human‘ being the greatest examples), creating one of the more relatable deathcore releases in recent memory. But in a narrative sense, the lyrics seem a little at odd with this EP’s original set up via the band’s mysterious hype campaign and its wider lore via the audio log recordings ingeniously created for it, hinting at a more involving story within the music. In reality, you don’t really get a deep narrative story from this EP so much as you receive someone’s own moral and politically maladjusted manifesto. Which is fine, and is probably how you should view this EP going into it too. In terms of the lyrical content, the narrative gets added to here and there, yet bands like modern hardcore legends Defeater and fellow Melbourne mosh-crew The Gloom In The Corner have achieved better-contained listening narrative experience in their respective works I feel.
Still, Gravemind should be commended for such a lofty attempt and I feel that once a full-length record arrives, their band’s second narrative level will be right up alongside the other two. And when that day comes, I hope our bodies and minds will be ready.
My one criticism aside, the key strength of ‘The Deathgate‘ is the happy medium that Gravemind hit. What I mean by that is that their music touches upon every inch of the deathcore landscape but in a balanced, effective way.
For the independent band aren’t here to outdo others in terms of string count, how low they tune or how heavy their breakdowns are; though they certainly have plenty of low-end and massive breakdowns to show-off. They aren’t here to shock you with over the top, dumb lyrics like Infant Annihilator do. They don’t over dazzle the listener with a ludicrously technical wank fest a la the new Rings Of Saturn record; they sprinkle their techy moments of intricate lead work and suitably layered instrumentals throughout this EP in a consistent manner. Unlike Oceano’s ‘Revelation‘ and Aversions Crown’s ‘Xenocide‘, the six-piece has concocted a clear sci-fi backdrop (my own preferences aside) for this release, without ever once reaching the overdone lyrical Thesaurus shenanigans of Mark Poida. Also unlike Aversions Crown’s and Shadow Of Intent’s latest, lengthy works and more closer to Oceano’s recent exercise in how utterly fucked Adam Warren can contort his voice, ‘The Deathgate‘ doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s a 20-minute listen all up and that’s an utter godsend for deathcore music these days; ensuring maintained listener interest and song consistency without sacrificing impact for overblown track length. They also don’t succumb to the low hanging targets of detailing serial killer fantasies or opting for religious hatred in their lyrics like Blind Oracle, A Night In Texas, Thy Art Is Murder and many others and have done in the past; Gravemind go wider and deeper in thematic scope and present it all with real emotion too.
And then there are the actual songs. My god, the songs here are fuckin’ good!
Not only have Gravemind created a great set of songs and an EP that ebbs and flows naturally without any interruption, they’ve also created their most theatrical release thus far – something they hopefully maintain moving forward. Case in point, the dynamic and mammoth scope of ‘Eschaton‘ is just near-dizzying and Gillies-Parsons‘ shrieking highs and deep, booming growls that bellow above the band’s instrumentals adds such an immense weight to their music. It’s a great pace and tone setter opener and one that is bookended so well by the polar opposite track – ‘Human‘. On that closing song, and with the help of mournful, minor strings (alongside a soft Gregorian-like chant that sounds like it was ripped straight from Halo) and ever-building heavy layers, ‘Human’ barrels along between eerie dynamic lulls of whispered vocals and brutal, riff-driven deathcore; all before delivering an aggressive, rapid-fire onslaught of quick instrumental fast vocal phrases for its outro. Remember when I said that the lyrics were more a manifesto than a proper story? This is incredibly true with ‘Human‘ and the protagonist’s self-aware lyrics summing up our species grotesque flaws to a T and asking for “the real you” are complimented so well by the music.
The construction of ‘The Deathgate‘ was undertaken with many of Gravemind’s friends, from Lance Perc mixing and mastering it to the vocals recorded by former drummer Anthony Pallas (who now drums for Drown This City), and Alpha Wolf’s Scottie Simpson recording the instrumentals. And as such, Alpha Wolf frontman Aidan Ellaz briefly lends his vocals the towards the end of ‘Echo’, providing some powerful low screams alongside Gravemind’s own frontman.
Speaking of, I know for a fact that old mate loves his video games, and I have no doubt in my mind that ‘Deadspace’ is in reference to Visceral Game’s flagship franchise (there are no references to the Markers, the Ishimura, Isaac Clarke, or the Necromorphs, sadly) and not about the amazing Perth black band that is Deadspace. As for what is simply a minute-long track, ‘Deadspace‘ not only bridges the front and back ends of the EP superbly but it becomes one of Gravemind’s most succinct yet strongest songs to date, what with its transition from menacing spoken word to full-on screaming and cleaner, eerie guitar chords merging into pummeling crunchy riffs. And that crushing finale of “What do you know?” is just stellar!
From ‘Deadspace‘, we arrive at what was the very first taste the world received of this EP – ‘Anaesthesia’. Simply put, this three and a half minute song is an utter banger and a half and it’s the song to beat out of Gravemind’s slowly growing catalogue! The wicked riffage-filled verses, that awesome vocal call-and-response of “Why am I so sick? (It’s simple). Was I this sick before? (Of course)” mid-way through, as well as that utterly monstrous “fury to the void” breakdown at 2:04 are some of my favourite moments in heavy music this year. ‘Anaesthesia‘ is of the same magnitude as the first time a Reaper bore down upon you in Mass Effect 3; it’s the same kind of adrenaline pumping nature as the moment you jumped onto the Scarab in Halo 2; and it’s just as intense as the first time you introduced the Lancer’s chainsaw to an unlucky, ugly-as-fuck Locust in Gears Of War. Really, an amazing song like ‘Anaesthesia‘ proves exactly why many of Gravemind’s peers should be getting very concerned about their own position in the deathcore hierarchy.
I knew that Gravemind were something special indeed when they released ‘The Death Of Teyolia’ last year, and it was why I said yes to us originally premiering it too. And they’ve proven me right yet again with their damned good second EP. Sure, ‘The Deathgate’ isn’t an original release for the past and present realms of deathcore, no, but it’s easily one of this genre’s better releases you’ll hear in 2017; one that breathes real life and emotion into a style of music worryingly void of it. For all of the dark topics, bleak undertones and stupidly abstract ideas that deathcore so often deals with, the genre’s future is looking a hell of a lot brighter with Gravemind within its midst.
Gravemind don’t need deathcore, deathcore needs Gravemind!
2. The Deathgate
‘The Deathgate’ EP will open unto the world on Friday, August 11th. Pre-order it here. Check out the dates for their headline September tour here. You may also be wondering how the actual fuck I got so many words out of a six-track EP? Honestly, I myself don’t even know…