Monday, August 29, 2016

Album Review: Second Grave - Blacken The Sky

Outside of the various forms of extreme metal, which I am predisposed not to enjoy very much, the hardest sub-genre of metal to do well is probably doom. The slow tempos and foreboding atmosphere don't necessarily mix well with the aspects of songwriting that I enjoy, namely melodies. It's rare to find a doom band that is able to play dark and heavy music, while still retaining the core of songwriting that elevates the music beyond a single riff droning on for eight minutes. I don't cover much doom metal here, for that very reason. And even for the bands that have managed to do it well in the past, there is no guarantee they will ever do it again. Candlemass, I'm looking at you after this year's mess of an EP.

Second Grave is one of those rare exceptions. "Blacken The Sky" is their swan song, with the band having announced their breakup before the release. I suppose there's nothing that can be more doom than releasing a record in the grief of a band's death.

Over the course of 56 minutes, Second Grave unleashes doom in its best form. They build lenthy songs from riffs that pile on the Iommi-flavored groove, understanding that a riff needs more than simply be tuned below the limits of human hearing for a song to be heavy. These tracks have head-bobbing, toe-tapping rhythms that keep you interested as the songs stretch upwards of eleven minutes. It's easy for doom to say it's supposed to be slow and boring, but that's not an excuse Second Grave wants to use. Instead, they write songs that are actual songs, complete with a dynamic vocal performance by frontwoman Krista Van Guilder.

When it comes to doom, you can't do it any better than "17 Days". You get a big, hooky riff that wouldn't have been out of place on an early Sabbath record, which leads into a strong melodic chorus that gives the song almost a bounce to undercut the pure doom. It's one of those examples of having a little bit of something for everyone, and it makes fools of most of the doom bands who don't put forth a fraction of the effort to make their songs so engaging.

There's a definite Candlemass feeling to the riffs the band writes, which is never a bad thing. Few bands write riffs that are truly memorable anymore, but Candlemass is one that tries, so being compared to them is certainly a good thing. "Blacken The Sky", in that sense, reminds me of "King Of The Grey Islands", but with more patience to let the doom be drawn out.

Sure, there are times where the album falls into the same problems I often have with doom. "No Roam" is a bit too repetitive for my tastes, though I think it's intentionally trying to set up a trance-like state, and the chorus of "Bloodletting" exchanges harsh vocals for something more interesting, but a few issues here and there are to be expected.

But the bottom line is that for as hard as doom metal is to pull off, Second Grave does it admirably here. While we're not going to get to hear how this album could have been the launching point for something even better, they're bowing out on a high note. "Blacken The Sky" is damn solid doom metal, and it shames what Candlemass did this year. That's an accomplishment to be proud of.

You can hear the album on their Bandcamp page.

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