Friday, May 18, 2018

Double Review: Graveyard - Peace

Graveyard have "managed to come closer than anyone else has to building a time machine, so those of us too young to have been there can understand what it was like when rock and roll ruled the world." Those were the words I wrote to sum up "Lights Out", my first exposure to the band. In the years since, I have become convinced that Graveyard is the defining band of this time in rock, because they are the group that most embodies the spirit of what made classic rock... well, classic. Over the course of their four albums before the short hiatus, they proved to be the one band that could write music that not just sounded timeless, but actually was. Yes, there were signs of the split that was to come, but they never stopped being important for shining a light on the path rock and roll needs to take.

Having resurrected themselves, minus one member, Graveyard returns with more fire in their belly than they've had in several years. "Peace" is an album that goes for the throat, a brash exercise that pushes everything great about Graveyard right to the fore-front. You can't help but notice this in the first few seconds of "It Ain't Over Yet", which opens the album like a drag racer hooking up the tires without a hint of smoke. The song races out of the gate, and the production is quickly evident as a fuzzier, heavier take on their classic rock. They still sound like themselves, but a hungrier version.

What has always stood out to me is the band's ability to mix short and punchy rockers with slower and more emotional ballads, and be equally good at both. Few groups are able to do more than one thing well, and it has been the balance of those elements that has allowed Graveyard to make some of the best albums of this millennium. For my (objective) money, I can't say there have been many album any better than "Lights Out" since Y2K fizzled, with "Hisingen Blues" only falling behind because of Graveyard's own brilliance.

The key to Graveyard's music is simplicity. They don't throw anything into the songs that isn't needed, just for the sake of showing what they can do. But by making each song a few chords, a bit of manic drumming, and a simple vocal line, they allow the songs to overwhelm the individual parts. You won't come away from a song like the first single, "Please Don't", humming a huge riff, or remembering the way the bass bounces under the descending run of notes, but you will absolutely remember the song. Graveyard's music takes a few listens to understand the beauty of such simplicity, but when it clicks, it becomes genius.

In many ways, "Peace" is the album that should have come after "Lights Out". It has a similar sonic palate, and the balance of songs carries the same feeling, while at the same time showing enough development to make it clear Graveyard has grown as an entity. While I still question the decision to not have Joakim (a singular vocalist) handle all the singing, "Peace" quells all the questions that arose in my mind from "Innocence & Decadence". Graveyard is back to being a more focused band, knowing exactly who they are and what they do best. These ten songs are nothing more than classic Graveyard. I can't think of a higher compliment.

When the ballad "Del Manic" explodes with echoing gang vocals and a droning guitar, there's nothing else to say other than Graveyard gets it. They understand how to let songs (and albums) rise and fall, maximizing the impact every facet can bring to the whole. Songs like "Walk On" and "Cold Love" hit that fine line of being memorable without ever hinting at a pop influence, etching in your mind like a needle in vinyl because of the expert songwriting.

The day Graveyard announced their demise was a sad day for me, both because I had grown to love their music so much, and because there was no one else ready to take their place as the north star of old-school rock and roll. I was wary after "Innocence & Decadence" was the closest they had come to a disappointment, and the unknowns of a hiatus, but "Peace" brings... well, peace. All is right in the world again because Graveyard is back doing what only they can. Nostalgia is running wild throughout the world, both for things we remember for their greatness, and for things we misremember as being greater than they ever were. Graveyard is the rare case where we get to experience music we thought was long dead, but it's every bit as good as it ever was.

Chris C


Man, am I happy to see Graveyard again.  My blood ran a little cold when they announced their breakup last year, but thank goodness that all got worked out with the simple ouster of a drummer.  It would have been a premature burial (no pun intended) for one of the best bands working today.  Maybe that gives away how good “Peace” is as a result, but spoiler, I’m a fan.

There was a time when I referred to Graveyard as the Swedish Led Zeppelin.  For a while, that was true, but now as we gather for their fifth studio album “Peace,” the comparison is no longer fair, for it undersells all the things that make Graveyard distinct.  (Before everyone loses their mind, no, I’m not saying Graveyard is better than Zeppelin, merely that they are different.  Although there are days….)
What we see on “Peace” is actually anything but, as Graveyard, for perhaps the first time, consistently shows off their power in the album’s selection.  We’re used to the idea that the Swedes will hit us with a couple of rockers on each outing, but “Peace” turns the intensity way up, beginning right at the top with the slippery but rhythmic “It Ain’t Over Yet.”  It’s a new pace for Graveyard to set, but they seem comfortable moving up in tempo.

Where this really comes to play is in “Please Don’t,” probably the heaviest Graveyard song to date, and the first track that really lends some credence to the long-mistaken comparisons between Graveyard and Black Sabbath.  This song is the thunder that we haven’t heard from the band before, right down to the bass-heavy production and the minimalist riff that crashes against the shore over and over again.  The underlying influence of the keyboard track in this and several other songs is understated, but adds just that minuscule touch of depth to highlight the difference between the high guitar melody and the deep rhythm.

One point of oddity – “Cold Love” is a good song, although it is not the album’s best.  What’s odd is that it is an earwig of carnivorous proportions, the single song from the album that you’ll find yourself humming when you wake up in the morning for a week solid.  There’s something in the big vocal chorus and return that bores in and won’t let go.

Worth noting is the shift in musical paradigm from Graveyard for “Peace.”  Previous albums, dating all the way back to the beginning, were as much blues revival albums as they were rock records.  “Peace,” by contrast is a rock album through and through, and while no one would accuse it of abandoning the blues, it doesn’t take the time to showcase them in the same manner.  “Peace” doesn’t have a “No Good, Mr. Holden” or a “Slow Motion Countdown” to represent that side of the band.  “Del Manic” gives it a shot, but doesn’t have the emotional grip of those songs that came prior.
That said, the album doesn’t need that to succeed, as it does display the band’s blues roots in other ways.  “Bird of Paradise,” if you shut your eyes and listen closely, could have been performed by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and the rolling drums of album closer “Low (I Wouldn’t Mind)” suggest just a hint of old time rockabilly that adds another dimension.

There are two problems for Graveyard and “Peace.”  Both linger on the horizon, and both are good problems to have.  The first is that their last three records, “Hisingen Blues,” “Lights Out” and “Innocence & Decadence,” all placed in my top three albums at the end of the year, but none took the crown.  “Peace” is currently in the running, but time will tell.

The second problem is more subtle and difficult to explain properly, but here goes – four of this band’s five records (all but their first, which is fine, but that’s all it is,) have been stunning efforts of power, grace and blues craftsmanship.  How long can this go on?  How many top-shelf albums can a band produce?  Now, I’m willing to put Graveyard in that rarefied air with Iron Maiden and Metallica and whoever else has released scads of memorable, must-own records, but that’s a dice-roll, and history suggests very few bands can reach that level.  To wit, Graveyard has already produced more compelling albums in eleven years than most artists do in a lifetime.

With all that, here’s fingers crossed that it can keep going.  Graveyard has made their album releases mark-the-calendar dates for serious fans of rock on multiple continents.  And if you consider yourself one and that’s not true for you, you are behind the times.  Get caught up.  “Peace” is a compelling place to start.


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