Black metal was never meant to be an accessible, clean or pretty genre, and Swedish duo GRAVKVÄDE — consisting of multi-instrumentalist Ezra Nattkaos and vocalist Domedag — definitely does not create accessible music. Ambient, repetitive and lo-fi, with simplistic and often off-time drumming, droning guitars, creepy keyboards and funeral bells chiming in the distance, Gravkväde’s first full-length release, entitled ‘Grav|Aska’ (Grave Ashes), is an isolating and minimalistic soundscape, dripping with youthful anger and disillusionment. This intimate and primitive record alternates between slow funeral doom and faster, angrier black metal. I hesitate to call this DSBM, as it really isn’t overly “depressive” or “suicidal”, but instead comes across as realistic, frustrated and honest.
‘Grav|Aska’ was released by Avantgarde Music, an Italian record label that hosts such nihilistic geniuses as Nortt, and Gravkväde takes some clear inspiration from them. The opening track, Dödspsalm, is perhaps more than coincidentally similar to Nortt’s intro on the 1999 demo, ‘Graven’, and it is especially similar to the track Graven on 2003’s full-length, ‘Gudsforladt’, and the Nortt-worship remains obvious throughout the entire album. There is one element in particular that they’ve borrowed from Nortt’s ‘Gudsforladt’ that is incredibly jarring and distracting, and that is the strange water sound effect that flows throughout this album. While in Nortt’s case it sounded like rain, in Gravkväde’s case it really just sounds like someone taking a long piss in a cave, or perhaps a kettle of boiling water.
Awkward sound effects aside, the musicianship and overall song structure are decent, the drumming is passable, and obviously a lot of heart and soul has been poured into this release. That being said, the highlight by far is vocalist Domedag. Steady, fierce and sounding rather painful to produce, his throat-shredding shrieks and dissonance give this album a sense of depth and contribute a great deal of emotion to the overall sound. He sounds absolutely deranged!
I have a great deal of respect for any piece of music that makes the listener feel something negative — something that characterised the early scene, but is rarely accomplished by modern black metal bands — and halfway through this record, I realised that it was making me feel utterly miserable. As I zoned out on the third track, Anderiket, the distress and disquietude that these two gentlemen express began to feel like it belonged to me. While I don’t necessarily feel as though they hate themselves or want to commit suicide as the self-imposed label of DSBM might suggest, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the emptiness and pointlessness of my own existence, and the all-consuming anger I’ve often felt towards modern life. I then began to feel waves of self-loathing and anxiety as my ego scrambled to defend itself against this aural attack. A rare and welcome treat indeed, and certainly not something I expected when I began to listen to this record.
‘Grav|Aska’ seems to improve significantly as the album progresses, with the first track feeling improvised and disjointed, and the final song, Sorgeakt being rather beautiful and well-structured amongst all the layers of static and madness. The atmosphere is deep, thick and heavy, and Domedag’s vocals are at their best here, sounding both mournful and desperate. These talented young newcomers are definitely worth keeping an eye on, as they have the beginnings of something perhaps not unique, but quite interesting going on. I suspect they will continue to grow and create something genuinely dark as time goes on.
‘Grav|Aska’ can be streamed and purchased directly from Avantgarde Music and is available on CD as well as digital download and extremely limited vinyl pressings.