Grave – Into the Grave – Review


Into the Grave (Century Media)
by Tim Den

Undoubtedly the most underrated of the Swedish death forefathers, Grave have somehow escaped godlike status despite having had a near immaculate track record. No deviation into hardcore (Dismember) or wannabe Kiss tributes (Entombed), only releases that got more and more potent. Now, with Century Media re-releasing the band’s back catalog (with two albums in each package, new liner notes, and occasional bonus outtakes), perhaps the world will get another chance at giving Grave their devotion.

I was a fan from the get-go, having picked up Into the Grave after seeing Century Media’s full-page ad on Metal Maniacs‘ back cover. “Heaviest album EVER!” it proclaimed; I had to hear it for myself. Opener “Deformed” alone pretty much made me a believer of the slogan. To quote the new liner notes, “Deformed” is “probably one of the most brutal openings (in death metal).” Just a massive, smothering, rumbling weight coming down upon you like an inescapable avalanche. Like being thrown into a grinder, your flesh torn and pounded into mush by the power of the buzzsaw distortion. The rest of the album didn’t disappoint, either: Classics like “Obscure Infinity,” “Extremely Rotten Flesh,” and the title track tested the listener’s threshold for speed and low-end brutality, pacing the precedings with brilliant breakdowns.

Follow-up You’ll Never See… refined the debut’s characteristics a bit more, but overall just acted as an extension of it. The title track, “Morbid Way to Die,” and “Christi(ans)anity” were just as potent as any of Into the Grave‘s offerings – albeit a bit more “catchy” – but it wasn’t until the next EP (…And Here I Die… Satisfied) that fans got a glimpse of the maturation to come.

The title track of the EP – as well as “I Need You” and an oldie called “Black Dawn” – clearly captured the band at a turning point. Having mastered heaviness at top speeds, the band were now focusing more attention on grooves. Catchy grooves, to be exact. The kind where every accent helps shape the tastefulness of the breakdown. The death metal crowd began to really take notice.

And then came Soulless, the band’s personal favorite and the album most fans consider their best. No filler in sight, Soulless rode the “muscle car” Swedish sound into the jaws of hell, Hulk smashing highways and splitting mountains with its beastial stomps. Opener “Turning Black” and the title track are quite possibly the most perfect Swedish death metal songs ever written: Tastefully restrained at appropriate moments, bursting through the dam to spice things up at critical junctures. Wanna know where Bloodbath and Roadrunner bands found their inspirations? Right here, baby. A percussive monolith that took no prisoners and had more memorable hooks than a Bon Jovi album, Soulless was like a guidebook on how to meticulously create the perfect death metal album. The elements of brutality had never been this well-balanced.

However, bassist/vocalist Jörgen Sandstrom defected to Entombed soon after Soulless, leaving many wondering if this was the end of the band. Thankfully, guitarist Ola Lindgren discovered that he, too, had a mean fucking growl. One that was clearer, more visceral, and forceful than Sandstrom’s, even. So it was the duo of Lindgren and drummer Jensa Paulsson that recorded Hating Life, an album most fans disliked because of Ola’s “hardcore” vocals and its slightly experimental touches. But in the opinion of this writer, Hating Life was the culmination of the band’s years of writing and crafting. Hating Life contains the most potent songs Grave ever wrote, the highlights of which include opener “Worth the Wait” (goddammit, Grave albums always have the best openers!), “Sorrowfilled Moon,” and of course “Restrained.” The latter two containing breakdowns so big, they incite Wolverine rage in anyone who listens. They’re motherfucking unstoppable. So what if the band inserted an electronic beat at the end of a song? So what if the album closed with an ominous acoustic riff? If mixing things up a bit was what it took for Grave to come up with the most ingeniously crushing songs, then who the fuck are you to complain?

Tough, then, that the band disappeared right after touring behind Hating Life (okay, there was one crappily-recorded Extremely Rotten Live, but it didn’t get reissued for good reason). Having released the best record of their lives, they were disowned by their fanbase and left behind by the rapidly-ascending Gothenburg scene. Until, of course, this year’s comeback record, Back to the Grave, which was received with foaming-at-the-mouth praise. And now, with the spotlight once again turning their way via these reissues, history seems to be rewriting itself. Let’s hope these giants get the worshipping they deserve this time.
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