Grave Miasma: Exalted Emanation

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By Tate Bengtson

Somewhere along the way, the use of growled vocals became virtually the sole criterion for determining whether or not a band should be classified as death metal. The musical celebration of evil, death, and decay – the unholy trinity of death metal – was marginalized and very nearly abandoned. More recently, so-called “old school” death metal has enjoyed a resurgence. This first emerged with the revival of the “Stockholm sound,” influenced by Entombed, Dismember, and the like. More recently, a particular strain of American death metal has resonated around the globe. Counting as influences bands such as Incantation, Profanatica, Immolation, and early Morbid Angel, the bands influenced by this strain have contributed to the restoration of the genre in all of its vile glory.

Grave Miasma is the latest proponent of death metal done right. This is nasty, ugly stuff. While not as sharp in attack as Dead Congregation nor as profoundly murky as Mitochondrion nor as surreal as Portal, Grave Miasma entrenches itself in something of a middle ground. Perhaps the easiest way to grasp Grave Miasma is to use its choice of cover art as an analogy. The cover for Exalted Emanation features a mixture of brown hues portraying an indistinct, earthy gloom; this is the visual equivalent of the band’s sound. It is difficult to tell whether we are looking at the inside of a cave or the underside of a grave. Ultimately, the effect is the same. For Grave Miasma, light is anathema.

The British band, formerly known as Goat Molestör, makes heavy use of tremelo picking, which gives the guitars an eerie, wavering visage. This spectral menace is given substance by way of well-timed shifts in tempo. The drummer’s proclivity for pairing double bass kicks with sparing use of the snare creates a lurching sensation that works well against the tremelo picking, while the occasional roll is used to signal a plot change. His technique is indispensible to the flow of the album, especially on the more structurally complex songs. Grave Miasma smartly interjects slower and midtempo movements into the fray, allowing the riffs to draw out with calculated menace. While Grave Miasma does not conjure crushing doom to the same extent as Incantation, its use of the midtempo is strategically and tactically impeccable. Atop this misshapen edifice, cavernous growls utter the barely intelligible lyrics with an intelligent grasp of phrasing and enunciation.

Excluding the brief introduction and interlude, the five proper songs on this EP range from five minutes to eight minutes in length. With each song stretching to such length, Grave Miasma is afforded ample opportunity to subject an idea to myriad twists and turns. Rather than attempt to toss as many ideas as possible into the ring, Grave Miasma limits itself to a mere handful of carefully chosen concepts which are explored in detail. While it may take numerous exposures in order to separate out the distinguishing elements from one song to the next, eventually this does become apparent. The band does not deviate from its chosen message and atmosphere, but it does incorporate enough variation into the songs in order to impart individuality to each. “Pillars” features some of the most intriguing guitar work on the album, with a middle segment awash in atonal divebombs and the final section reveling in a classic guitar line wherein suspense gives way to horror. Grave Miasma’s finest moment is the nearly nine-minute closing cut, “Kussa’u Tibtihu,” a colossal track that features the band at its slowest, heaviest, and most ominous. The track ends on a perfect note, with the sparse plucking of an acoustic guitar capturing that moment when the horrors of existence gives way to the horrifying emptiness of death.

Enjoy the horror.

(Sepulchral Voice)

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Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.