Receiving digital copies of albums is both a blessing and a curse for different reasons. Obviously you don’t get the whole package with a digital copy and all the info that comes with it. On the plus side, it’s cheaper, quicker and easier for bands and labels to get their music out to reviewers and while I’d like a hard copy, I fully understand this benefit for bands and labels. This is brought up because with Norway’s GRAVDAL and their latest release “Torturmantra”, the download got a bit screwy and I’ve been listening to the album out of sequence! While annoying (and probably my own fault) the grip of choking Black Metal the Bergen natives emit is no less potent when in an incorrect order.
While I haven’t heard the band’s initial release “Sadist”, which was well received, their sophomore effort is a layered, well-written and executed example of contemporary Black Metal. Chaotic bleakness is tempered with runs of chunky, cold riffs and adorned with stifling vocals not unlike those delivered recently by Pest (GORGOROTH). Within the opening track “Hydestund I Helvete” are moments of blistering segments which then turn down paths of near opulence a la ENSLAVED; this all wrapped around the trem-laden bedrock of Norwegian blackness. This formula stays true for most of “Torturmantra” but the band fold in enough variance to keep you on your toes. The opening riff of “Eg E Ditt Helvete” is a prime example: a slow, descending riff of Doom proportions opens the track which is then split open with a vortex of scorching guitars and a blasting rhythm – the bass and drums given a good mix in the sound. Mid-way through the song its contortions stop, leaving you with only that glorious sound of a lone guitar playing a frosty chain of tremolo picked notes, the kind that have your hairs standing on end. In this tried and true arena, “Torturmantra” conjures the best icy moments of the great DARK FORTRESS. It’s on the 4th track “Mishandlet” that things really get going in a more complex way – bobbing and weaving in and out of a shivering acoustic spine, the demons in GRAVDAL then mix in a mid-paced series of riffs and a strong melodious solo. As the cut ends, the band plunge down another blackened doom road that swallows all in its vicinity. With purists around every corner in the BM world, it can be a risk to play so cavalierly with tempo but GRAVDAL seem at ease with such ventures.
“Torturmantra” plays in such a mixed fashion throughout: shifting tempos, cold and piercing BM riffs smashed up against some Thrash-cum-Death walls of guitars, tipples of melody and even the odd section of groove as heard in “Klastrert På Ambolt”. Like any good band in the darkest of genres though, GRAVDAL maintain the desolate tone required and loved by those who immerse themselves in Black Metal. While not veering into the progressive end of the scale like some fellow Norwegians, GRAVDAL knead in enough complexity to challenge while not turning off. Time to go back and find their debut album.
(Online February 21, 2012)