After suffering their own mutation of that most horrid of chronic maladies known as the mid 1990s, this consequential contributor to the Swedish Death Metal scene was sort of stuck in semi-groove limbo. With the release of this aptly titled salutation to sickness and dismay, “Fiendish Regression”, GRAVE finally succeeded in cracking through the walls of mediocrity and actually put out something that is respectable by the standards set by themselves circa 1991-1992. It doesn’t fully succeed in reliving the glory days of gore, darkness, mysticism and villainy that characterized “Into The Grave”, but it succeeds at being a modern variant on the same basic style quite nicely.
The contents of this album could be compared to a former student relearning old lessons, putting a greater emphasis on quality rather than quantity. As a result, the songs that emerge are fairly formulaic and easy to follow, but also leave a lasting impression on the listener. Dissonant, yet also memorable riffs and rudimentary melodic fragments work with a dark and bottom heavy production to recapture the old visual of a graveyard that this band used to put forth with ease. It’s a little bit less reverb heavy and hall-like than the abandoned stone structures to the unholy atmospheric vibe you get from MORBID ANGEL, but it draws from a similar sense of grimness and despair.
Although most of these songs contain pretty fast passages of double bass work and a few blast beats filter in and out, there is a sense of slowness to the sound, fed mostly by the Doom influences that the band carries. Although the riffs here are a bit more dissonant and muddy and the vocals are guttural enough to put Corpsegrinder on notice, there are definitely noticeable parallels to “South Of Heaven” and early SAINT VITUS, to the point of becoming a blatant homage at times. When combined with the fast drums and toneless barks of Ola Lindgren, this sense of traveling while standing still emerges. It doesn’t qualify as Death/Doom because there are too many Thrash-like moments woven into this album (mostly paralleling SLAYER and KREATOR), but the Doom elements definitely play a heavier role on here than they do on what most mainline bands associated with this style incorporate.
In terms of individual song quality, picking a favorite depends more on what stylistic leanings you look for in your Death Metal rather than one song necessarily being of a higher grade. “Last Journey” has one of those really haunting “South Of Heaven” intros that goes into a pretty epic sounding mix of sludgy, swamp drenched, low end, slow paced riffing and guttural ravings fit for a marching army of rotting corpses. “Out Of The Light” and “Bloodfeast” are good picks if you like Death/Thrash with a definite MORBID ANGEL tinge to it. And for CANNIBAL CORPSE fanatics who want their Death Metal disgustingly atonal and loaded with tremolo work and fast as hell blast beats, “Breeder” is the one to hear.
This is definitely a worthy pickup for anyone who likes older styled Death Metal with a modern production. It lacks the cartoon-like gore worship that CANNIBAL CORPSE popularized, the brutality for its own sake nonsense of many modern acts, as well as the lack of musicality that seems all too prevalent amidst a sea of cookie cutter acts with no identity of their own. Those shopping for it are encouraged to shop for the limited edition one which carries a really solid Death Metal remake of “Buried At Sea” by SAINT VITUS and a pretty solid extra song in “Autopsied”. It’s a good step in the right direction, but things would get better still on later albums where things would get faster and more furious.
(Online April 13, 2009)