I’m fairly certain that Australia is a gateway to hell, or the subject of some odd military psychotropic experiments on an unknowing public. Back in the 90s/early 00s most of what I was able to find from the region was a plethora of great alcohol soaked grindcore and goregrind, when labels like No Escape seemed to reign supreme. More recently (around the past decade) those styles seem to have diminished in the country, making way for what can be considered [these days] more accessible music, considering the rise in popularity of most extreme metal styles, sans the grind styles. I’m not trying to devalue these acts however – in fact many of them are at the top of their respective styles by now. Where does Grave Upheaval rest on the spectrum? Let us evaluate their newest untitled offering (their 2013 LP debut was also labeled as “Untitled”) and find out what these unknowing subjects of said military experiments are capable of. For the sake of making the rest of this review easier to understand, when mentioning this album I will be referring to it as “Untitled (2018)”.
If you listen to this album before researching the band and its members, you’ll probably hear some similarities to a couple of fairly prominent Australian acts. If you had Portal or Impetuous Ritual in mind, then you’ve hit the proverbial nail on the head. Grave Upheaval features the drummer from both bands, as well as perhaps a guitarist (or two) from either. Their line-up is a bit obscure; this is all I was able to gather from Encyclopedia Metallum and some amateur Google detective work. Anyhow, these connections are definitely apparent while listening to “Untitled (2018)”, bringing the trademark uncomfortable dissonance and unsettling atmosphere these musicians are inherently capable of creating to a frightfully slow tempo.
The guitar tone is oddly brittle, almost as though it’s been left smoldering in the ashes of a once uncontrollable inferno. The drums are well pronounced in the mix – featuring exceptional sounding toms, crashes and cymbals – with the exception of the bass drum, which is only present in a series of almost incomprehensibly dense thuds. In fact, the overall low end feels like a murky mess, lending to a feeling of trudging through a desolate swamp of grimy muck. If you’re familiar with Atreyu and Artax being swallowed whole by the Swamps of Sadness, begin by envisioning yourself struggling at that moment with them to get a vague idea of how this album feels. I’m not a big fan of the production choice, but it does work for “Untitled (2018)”, bringing the gloomy atmosphere crashing down upon my already callous demeanor.
This isn’t an album to kick you in the teeth and break all of your bones; instead Grave Upheaval has chosen to torment your psyche slowly and methodically, an hour at a time – depending on if you’re brave enough to press play a second time. It’s ghastly to the point of resembling Akatharta, although not nearly as horrific. There are haunting wails and disembodied moans similar to one of Kam Lee’s greater vocal performances, but don’t interpret that as the albums sounding the same. While both may be doom in overall style, Akatharta comfortably treads deathly funeral doom territory whereas Grave Upheaval goes the route of doom/death metal with the ever-popular cavernous sound.
“Untitled (2018)” is a fine album that will certainly make the average listener feel quite uncomfortable, but the downfall for me ends up being the haunting atmosphere. This is something that feels organic for the likes Akatharta, but unfortunately with Grave Upheaval it feels far too forced. If they had left out the wails and moans and kept a more direct approach I would have considered this a fine piece of doomy death metal, but the forcibly haunting atmosphere is used in excess. It starts off as being an interesting addition to the overall sound of the album but quickly starts to feel like an overused gimmick. If you can dismiss this one glaring flaw, Untitled (2018) is still an album with a fine blend of slow doom and sprinkles of faster death metal passages thrown in at the perfect moments. While I feel that the ghastly approach should have been used much more sparingly, the song writing feels organic. Grave Upheaval definitely deserves credit for that.
Find this one right here!