Shallow Grave — S/T

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Shallow Grave – S/T

New Zealand has a twisted heart filled with endless wrath and frustration. That’s ably reflected in the country’s most ill-omened metal, and the self-titled debut from Shallow Grave captures that anger and unease flawlessly. The Auckland-based four-piece amplifies the malevolence that skulks beneath the façade of society in an unsettling, premonitory form—and does so with a substantial amount of spiteful exuberance.

All that grimness makes for engrossing doomsday metal. Such ominous themes have universal appeal, and Shallow Grave’s atmospheric sludge and doom will resonate with fans of distortion-heavy voyages into pits of damnation. The band fuses Grief’s scruffy poundage with Khanate’s evilest reverberations, and binds that to Neurosis’s obstinate artistry. Add in a mutilated, psychedelic undercurrent, and you’re getting close to the essence of Shallow Grave’s sound. It’s prowling sludge covered in festering sores being lanced by the rusty scalpel of aberrant doom (while the stench of post-metal’s rotting corpse lingers).

Of course, sludgy doom bands are a dime a dozen, but what counts in Shallow Grave’s favor is that they don’t play a one-dimensional glutinous-riffs game—although there’s plenty of buckling barbarity on offer. Shallow Grave’s six lengthy tracks (spread over 55 minutes) are all heaving lurches of thickset subterranean sludge, but each retains a pulse distinctly its own. That’s a feat to be applauded; as we all know, the similarity between epic low-end trawls can, in some cases, make for marathon bores.

Thankfully, that’s not an issue for Shallow Grave. Opening tracks “Devil’s Harvest” and  “Chemical Fog” are both colossal dirges of decelerated raw sludge, but their true weight is best appreciated in their fibrous tissue. They’re clear-cut trampling tracks, with howls and hefty riffs direct from the cauldrons of perdition, but there’s refinement in their velocity and texture—making them deluges of multi-hued destruction.

Admittedly, ‘refinement’ might not be a word that leaps to mind when the bone-crunching “From Boundless Heights” begins its assault, but nonetheless, adept musicianship is exactly what you’ll find. There’s no denying that the exterior of Shallow Grave is rough and scarred by acid, but any band worth its weight can make abrasive noise. It’s the compositional depth of Shallow Grave that gives the album its magnitude—the differing shades of its magma. It takes a bite out of early Sunn O))) in its sparser passages, blending those huge buzzing tones into the quagmire to ensure there are plenty of cavernous sonic traps to get tangled in.

Shallow liveShallow Grave don’t use their abundant power to simply batter; they use it to add a sense of hellish journeying to proceedings. Call it what you want—dexterity or simply skillful handling of dynamics—but while torrents of riffs and bludgeoning percussion rain down, the band shrewdly use grainier and more ambient ingredients to ensure there’s variance in the storm. The fuzz and fog of feedback, which reeks of fused amps, is set around portentous pauses. You’d hardly call them moments of calm, but that sense of space is put to great effect on a track like “To Unfathomable Depths”, where breathing room grants even more impact as the heavier, dissonant elements come into play.

That commanding dynamic interplay is best evidenced on the final 15-minute track, “City of the Dead/Sustainiac”. It churns through passages both red hot and freezing cold. Distorting riffs descend into pulverizing chaos, and the use of frosty soundscapes and samples in its more desolate sections maintains its sinister tenor beautifully. Throughout Shallow Grave you’ll find such contrasting moods. Some suggest adulterated, chemically fuelled pitches into very dark corners of the mind; others suggest bastardized, gruesome sludge from the bowels of eternal punishment.

Ultimately, that volatile capriciousness is Shallow Grave’s best feature. They’re committed to constructing deadfalls of depravity, with a sound that’s as heavy as the themes they tackle. But what they do best is recognize that abomination comes in countless shades, and if you’re providing a tour through Hades-like squalor, it’s best you encompass the many faces of devilry.

In the end, that’s what makes Shallow Grave worth your time—the combination of hulking, bitter and viscid sounds echo and attack from all sides. And with biographical details about the band being scant, there’s an insistence that the message is what counts here first and foremost—and it’s clear that’s a communiqué oozing corruption.

Shallow Grave is an unswerving expedition into the netherworlds, with monstrous apparitions to enjoy along the way. Up front you’ll find the gut-punch of downtempo deviant sludge, while lurking in the shadows is the venom. Shallow Grave is pernicious, slow-baked and hypnotizing poison, working its way under the skin. Sculpting powerful odes to Old Nick and societal degradation, Shallow Grave are fantastically insidious, and there’s no mistaking that this is a wonderfully unwholesome debut.

(Out 4 Feb 2013, on Astral Projection)

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