Aussie death metal burners Grave Upheaval drive into hellish abyss on debut album

grave upheavalI may have asked this before, but what the actual hell is going on in Australia? I mean, I’ve seen Outback commercials before, and everything seems so cheery and fun there. No one ever frowns. Ever! OK, all joking aside, we Americans do get a sunny, happy outlook when it comes to Australia, but the land’s metal output seems to indicate something different.

Most of us already know of Portal, the hellish, costumed death metal demons that brought a new sense of terror to the subgenre and remain one of the most mysterious bands of our time. We also have Mournful Congregation, kings of funeral doom who make some of the most emotionally anguished sounds going today, and every one of their albums is a journey through psychosis, trauma, and suffering. That’s just scratching the surface of Aussie bands not named AC/DC, that also includes Assaulter, Bestial Warlust, and StarGazer, showing the uglier, more violence side of that part of the world.

grave upheaval coverNow we have one of the ugliest, most terrifying bands to date to slither out of Australia with Grave Upheaval, a band that sounds like what it might underneath a hundred million tons of burning coals, as you’re suffocated and charred. Their music is hard to describe accurately because it’s more like a presence than a composition. It stands still and just drone and bores through your soul, with no intention of dazzling you or getting your energy to a higher level. They simply want to pound away over and over until you have no choice but to tap for submission. The closest comparison is Portal, but without the dizzying musicianship buried underneath all the layers of filth. That’s not to suggest these guys don’t also have those chops (after all, they share a member with that band and Impetuous Ritual), but their mission is to crush and kill. Period.

OK, so as noted, this band has a tie to Portal with their drummer Ignis Fatuus, who plays the same with this band but handles guitars and vocals for Impetuous Ritual. He takes no name in this band. The other member, who also goes nameless, handles everything else, including those smothering vocals, and the songs on the record don’t even get names. Neither does their debut full-length, out on Nuclear War Now!, which only helps to build the mystery and terror behind this band. Their style is not going to be for everyone, and it takes a certain headspace to embrace and identify with this music (is it scary that I do?), but if you get it, you’re fully committed.

The first track gets the record off to a ripping start, with frightening drone and vocals that sound like a demonic hiss rising from the earth’s crust. The guitars are thick and clubbing, and if you’re not attuned to what this band is doing, your head is already spinning. The second track is menacing and drowns in soot, drubbing you slowly but heavily, like hell has opened up and coated the Earth’s surface with fire. As the song reaches its finish, the music grinds to an even slower pace and strengthens the grip around your neck. Track three opens with sludgy doom riffs, and production-wise it’s the cleanest sounding song on the whole record. That doesn’t mean it’s pristine or pretty, by the way. Just a little less encrusted in dirt. Anyway, the vocals return to their whispery haunting, and the band continually goes for your throat.

The fourth track veers into blinding madness, with the drums just erupting, the vocals sounding as demonic as ever before, and the guitars wearing away. Then, the growls reach a screechy level, eerie drone chants float behind, and the devastating tempo boils over. Anyone who says this band shows no variety–and that stupid complaint is out there–apparently skipped over this song. The fifth track has a numbing pace, with the tempo pounding and tortured wails driving home the pain and agony. The sixth track wastes no time delivering buckets full of punishment, with a doom finish to the music, and a catastrophic wave of feedback that pierces the mind and soul and turns them black. The closing cut is the longest, at 10:15, and it takes its time setting up its mission and sucking you into its vortex. The drubbing remains mostly at the same speed, with elements poured over it such as melodic nuances, more doom creepiness, grinding death hell, and a dizzying final few minutes that should leave your room spinning. It’s a record that, if it hits you in the right spot, could end up on repeat for hours as you examine each inch of its chaos.

Grave Upheaval’s hopeless, tortured death metal won’t excite everyone, especially those who think this subgenre’s centerpoint is teen clothing shops and summer package tours. Those people are flat out wrong, by the way. That’s not an opinion. This band is frightening, overtly violent, and should make your guts go frozen in no time which, if you’re a true fan of death metal’s essence, should provide a lifetime of morose happiness.

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