Several times this year Your Grouchy Friend has found himself actively reflecting on writing music reviews whilst engaged in the writing process itself. Writing about Depravity’s “Grand Malevolence” prompted a personal consideration of our modern listening habits vs the listening behaviour of a music writer, and what implications those differences in habit may hold for both artist and consumer. In a review that went unpublished earlier this year Your Grouchy Friend was presented with a piece of art of little personal appeal and took the approach of taking a very deep dive into it, reasoning that in order to do objective justice to a piece under review one must work past subjective reactions (positive or negative). This led to a balanced view of the work’s structure, direction and technique, and a feeling of understanding the work more thoroughly. Compare this to the habits of the modern listener, for whom there is instant access to an endless ocean of potential material and the ability to move on to the next offering on a whim – drive-thru, fast food music. The disservice these snap judgements do to many artists – especially those creating subjectively difficult material or those with savagely skewed genre appeal – can be a painful one. For an artist such as Depravity and an album such as “Grand Malevolence,” it may mean immediate yet fleeting appreciation for the excellent Death Metal on offer, but a failure to explore and enjoy the complex artistry at play – artistry that becomes more apparent with each and every experience, bringing the listener heightened enjoyment through musical understanding and delivering justice to a group of artists ascending to new heights.
…one unravels, one engages, one immerses, one bathes in the dense and fertile creative waters in which Perth, Australia’s Depravity swim. Before reading further, understand that Your Grouchy Friend has acutely studied this album since well before release, and is now awash with the true glory it offers. You are being urged to take this same voyage.
Right from the jump this is an exploration in technical brutality. “Indulging Psychotic Thoughts” commences proceedings with a strong and immediate indication of the assailing, manifold tumult to follow. Just a minute or so in feels like an eternity given the relentless time changes and riffing. This only continues and by 3:30, good lord have things picked up. Just riff after riff after riff that you can feel in your chest. You’re in Depravity’s clutches… and they seem most unwilling to let you go.
This album is at its core about divergent stylistic flourishes that just won’t sit still: each with its unique appeal. Of highest note is a feeling of improved texture – the sound palette from which the band draw has expanded, not in the sense of genre bending or forced modernity, but in such a way that brings Depravity into a rarefied space shared by the elite of the genre. Whining discordance, droning ambience, tight hammering muted riffing, the ring and shape of open staccato single-notes. Make no mistake this is an evolved Depravity, even if that evolution is in some ways subtle and doesn’t drift to far from the band’s apparent influences, genre choice and sound.
The title track, another of the pre-released gems makes no effort to show remorse as the riffs keep coming. As alluded to above, it takes a listen or two or three to begin to understand each track’s complexity and the language of its parts. “Grand Malevolence” is a track that very much exemplified this concept as those who have run with it since it’s individual release will most likely attest.
As “Cantankerous Butcher” begins there is the quick realisation that things are about to get very serious. It’s the first track that builds a tense urgency in the form of speed and a consequent emotive release; thrashing along viciously with one of the riffs of the album before breaking down into a cavernous slowed section: Wide open, chugging with some beautiful melodic respite before resolving to renewed savagery. In symmetry with the album itself the track lurches and leaps between wild ideas whilst maintaining an artful flow that may seem at odds with such a description. This is surely one of the tracks of the album, and the outro section – the last thirty seconds – is simply perfect carnage. If you were to take just one thing with you to playlist-land from this album, it would likely be this beast of a song.
The unquestioned sidekick for “…Butcher” as top track is another of the pre-release tracks “Barbaric Eternity.” As regular readers of The Metal Wanderlust will be aware, the track was an exclusive premiere on this very site and Your Grouchy Friend had the honours of writing about it. The thunderous complexity of this song is another beast entirely. It’s combination of old school sounds and riffery with some thoroughly modern flourishes, ringing pseudo-cleans and gaping-wide open string punishment, are sure to have you banging your head and flailing your limbs in sub-human bestial fashion but a moment needs to be taken for the admiration of the sheer artistry in the brutality. The rhythms in this song won’t let you bang your head mindlessly from go to whoa, but the track is exceptionally arranged and written, and emblematic of the need to explore this material to its fullest to reap the greatest enjoyment. The patterns of timing give these riffs a level of interest and engagement well beyond that which simple nod-your-head-tap-your-foot fare is capable: A blazing show of musicianship and quite possibly the best example of the heights to which Depravity have now scaled.
“Grand Malevolence” is such a feast, with each song bringing a well crafted flavour that whilst revolving upon a similar thematic axis, is a unique entity to be explored. The closing three songs; “Hallucination Aflame,” “Epitome of Extinction,” and “Ghosts in the Void” seem to work extremely well as a triumvirate section in closing out the album. There is a shared melodic similarity that weaves its way through the songs and works well to establish a sense of departure whilst maintaining the brutality and technicality of the rest of the album. This is perhaps a highly subjective (and perhaps incorrect) opinion but it seems as though this may be an intentional phenomenon. Whatever the creative intention, it just flat out works and reinforces how well thought through the track listing is: There have been a couple of great albums this year that have lacked for thoughtful track programming – this is not one of them.
Full disclosure, Your Grouchy Friend shares his home town with Depravity, and has had the pleasure of seeing them live twice in the last couple of months, which in this plague ridden world is likely absolutely astonishing to some. Western Australia has not had a community transmission of the ever-present viral threat in over seven months and its residents are enjoying shows regularly. What this all amounts to is having sampled some of this material live, which it must be said can only add to one’s enjoyment of “Grand Malevolence,” even if it presents a certain bias to one’s assessment of the material having felt the vicious energy it presents live in a sweaty club.
This album is a work for which there is a requisite attentiveness and exploration, and it bears repeating to suggest that fans of brutal and technical Death Metal will be thankful for taking more than a cursory listen to this omnium-gatherum of masterful and intense musicianship.
As we shuffle inexorably through 2020, Depravity’s “Grand Malevolence” serves as a shining beacon at the end of one of the bleakest, darkest, blackest global tunnels in recent memory. We are almost there folks… and Depravity are playing us out in cacophonous style.
Rating – 5/5