Is it my fault that I’d never heard Grave before now, or theirs? The Swedes (or rather, remaining original member Ola Lindgren) have been on the go since the late 1980s and are currently celebrating the 21st anniversary of their debut album Into the Grave. As such, they have good claim to the status of pioneers of Swedish death metal, along with Entombed, Dismember and At The Gates. However, unlike their OG contemporaries, Grave seem like the kind of band that’s greatly admired by peers and oft cited by next-generation acts in the genre yet little known outside of those circles. Always the support act, never the headliner. But props to them for keeping it up after all those years—and I suppose also for refusing to compromise amid changing trends in extreme music, for better or worse.
Endless Procession of Souls (buy it from Amazon) is their 10th studio platter and sports a resolutely old-school sound from the outset. The short intro “Dystopia”—a mournful cry of just naked guitar, tuned deep as an abyss—gives barely a taster before the band launches into “Amongst Marble and the Dead,” the best track of the bunch, showing their metal and punk influences in equal measure in a multi-part composition of the kind Carcass made their own back in the day. Yet it’s the sound they’ve captured here—clean without the gloss, meaty without being sloppy—that makes the biggest impression, reminiscent of later extreme metal successors like Nasum.
“Disembodied Steps” brings more of the same, at least until the disconcertingly mainstream metal chorus section—though they just pull it back from the brink with a concrete breakdown. “Flesh Epistle” slows down the pace a tad, while “Passion of the Weak” and “Winds of Chains” chug along angrily, if unremarkably. A few tracks in, and my solid impression is “meat and potatoes.” The arrangements are thoroughly predictable, though there’s a certain level of passion detectable behind the playing that prevents things from tipping completely into workmanlike territory. Still, it doesn’t have that certain something that makes an album a classic.
Later tracks like “Encountering the Divine” and “Plague of Nations” are well composed and expertly played, and catchy enough while listening to them, but aside from the Slayer-referencing speed-fest “Perimortem” and the doom-laden closer “Epos,” they don’t linger long in the memory. Taken individually, each song is fine enough: Lindgren growls his heart out, his twin axe shredding with Mika Lagrén anchored by Tobias Cristiansson‘s hefty fuzzed-out bass and Ronnie Bergerståhl‘s solid drumming. But over the course of the whole album, the similarity of the phrases and the pace tends to blend the whole thing together to the point of indistinction—an endless procession of riffs, as it were. The curious lack of stand-out soloing throughout doesn’t help matters, either. If it weren’t for all that I’d say this was the product of an outfit that took Carcass‘ Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious as the apotheosis of the genre and saw no need to vary from that blueprint, like it’s 1992 all over again.
If nothing else, Endless Procession of Souls should please the fans, but I can’t see it attracting any new ones to the fold. Grave haven’t embarrassed themselves here by any means, but what they’ve produced here is quite the thing: an album that’s actually not bad, yet completely inessential.