Produced by Dan Abela (Voices, Sarah Jezebel Deva). Self-released on Friday 5 May 2017.
Until this album dropped into my email inbox, I’d never heard of London melodic death metallers GraViL. But they’ve been around for a few years. Their debut album Thoughts of a Rising Sun landed in 2013, the same year they headlined the Takeover Stage at the Download Festival, and a year before they played at Hammerfest and then supported HellYeah on their UK tour.
That experience shows in this their second full-length album. I’m told that this is a far heavier album than their debut. I can’t comment on the comparison, but it’s certainly a relentless barrage of first class British death metal.
According to Grant Stacey, vocalist and primary lyricist, the album has, woven through it, an underlying theme of loss in 2016: the personal loss of a baby a few years ago, the deaths of close friends, the loss of the EU through Brexit, and the loss of America to Trump.
The album kicks off to a majestic start with “Detonate” (track 1). A pounding wall of guitars and bass, drums kicked and beaten to within an inch of their life, and Stacey’s vocals passionately screamed. There are some lovely, classic metal guitar patterns towards the beginning of this track: guitar one plays a riff, guitar two joins in for the reply. The more I listen to this one track the more I connect with it. “I can’t let you go… can’t let you go!” Stacey screams. This could easily be talking about my experience of 2016, too.
“Are we alive” (track 2) opens with a galloping riff and soaring guitar solo before the lyrics explore the feeling of losing control in the face of change. Again, another theme that resonates with me these past two years. This track has more of a metalcore feel than the opener.
“I am the blood” (track 3) feels like the second part of “Are we alive”. It features a melodic, multi-voice chorus that gives it a bit of a nu-metal feel (but not in a pejorative sense). About two-thirds of the way through it heads for a fairly inevitable solo and middle eight but the predictability doesn’t detract from the excellence of its execution. It’s a welcome and carefully penned hiatus from the onslaught.
“Plagues, thieves and murderers” (track 4) is one of my favourite tracks on the album. In parts it has an almost ethereal feel, a haunting wave played over a deep, pounding beat that stops and starts, and twists its way through the track. Towards the end they do that thing with the recorded voices from a TV show over the top of the music. I like that thing. It’s a steady, stomping track. “Slow burn” indeed.
“Choke in silence” (track 5) ends the first half of the album with a very Lamb of God-style riff that they take and twist into their own shape and run with it. This song features the best solo of the album so far—more solos like this please. Such is the strength of this album that we have another very strong song buried in the middle of the album.
“Locate the traitor” (track 6) sounds like how I imagine an underground train that had to bore its own way through an erupting volcano might sound if it hit a particularly gnarly piece of rock. It has an unusually melodic chorus and a rather more delicate middle eight, but it all works together beautifully.
“Fractured, divided” (track 7) has an almost folk-metal feel in its opening riff. It features guest vocals from Theresa Smith (Metaprism). Grant Stacey: “This is again, a tale of me dealing with loss. It tackles the feeling I had that I was solely to blame for the baby’s loss and that it was my fault that I couldn’t give my partner the one thing she wanted so much. I felt like my heart and soul was being pulled apart.” It’s a powerfully emotional song, a fine balance between light and dark, between melody and noise. Theresa Smith’s vocals take this song to another level. Beautiful stuff.
“Decommissioned” (track 8) will be GraViL’s first single from the album (see their lyric video below). It’s a terrifically punchy track that talks—screams—about friendship betrayal. As with a few of their songs, I love the tranquil melody that glides effortlessly above the pummelling machine beneath.
“Forever is a prison” (track 9) has a really interesting starting-stopping riff that feels like it’s changing direction or pace every few bars. This gives the song quite an unsettling feeling, which is fitting given that the theme of the lyrics includes domestic abuse. About halfway through the song morphs into a beating, primal bass and drum rhythm, over which sings a melodic guitar solo. The guitar solos are few and far between on this album, which is a real shame as when they do come they are really great, and add something special to each track.
The first time I listened to the final track “One eyed king” (track 10) I couldn’t believe they kept this track till last. It’s so different to the rest of the album. It’s brilliant! It opens with a grinding bass riff through which weaves a staccato guitar riff that builds and pummels into a full-on guitar-led assault. About a minute in the vocals bounce and build into a full-on rant. Each time I listen to this song I can’t help but smile: this song is perfect.
And then silence.
It’s often in the silence after an album has burned itself out that you really begin to appreciate its greatness. And this is a great album.
This is an album that was written largely online using home recording equipment, and over the phone. The lyrics were written within a week.
People often talk about the “difficult second album”. Well, GraViL have certainly made it sound easy—though, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t. They have poured out and honed their creativity into a solid body of music that feels both raw yet honed.
This is an exciting, fresh album from an up-and-coming British band. I just hope that the disappointments about the state of the music industry that are reflected in track 4 “Plagues, thieves and murderers” doesn’t destroy their passion before it flourishes more.
This is certainly a band to keep an eye and an ear out for. If this album is in any way indicative of the health of British metal just now then we are in a really great place right now. Thank you GraViL, 2017 is looking up already.
Check it out on Friday 5 May 2017.
Review score: 95%