Review Summary: 18 years late to the death ‘n’ roll party, but worth the wait
Hearing a band alter their sound isn’t anything unusual – some folks enjoy searching for their musical identity and trying new things, so they cover different ground from album to album. The situation becomes problematic when the new sound is widely regarded as somewhat inferior to the band’s prior glory days, but the band themselves feel it suits them much better and fits them as musicians, and they keep pushing out record after record of their freshly adapted style. The most prominent example of such an occurrence in the realm of death metal is Entombed – the Swedish titans released two classic albums before adding a distinct rock influence to their music. They’ve continued making records over the years, sprinkling in different flavoring each time around, but fewer people bother checking them out.
The story of the music of Disgrace, a Finnish death-turned-rock group, is pretty similar. The fundamental difference is that they’re not considered one of the cornerstones of death metal like their aforementioned neighbors, but their demo-era material is revered for its monolithic riffage and pulverizing atmosphere. Disgrace’s debut full length, Grey Misery, started showing a subtle rock influence that took over completely when the band decided to pursue that direction as it fit their throbbing live show better. True, 1996’s Superhuman Dome is a petroleum-soaked, rollicking affair, but it has nothing to do with the style the band showcased on their early tapes. And somewhere in the middle of it all sat Vol. II: Black Lizards Cry – a full length the band recorded after Grey Misery, shelved because of the label evaporating. I was always hoping it would surface one day via some bootleg tape rip, as I was curious just how much rock influence would be prominent in this lost link in Disgrace’s evolution… fortunately, Svart Records (a phenomenal outlet responsible for re-releasing Rippikoulu’s masterpiece Musta Seremonia, among others) managed to coax a tape of this out of the band and finally released it for the world to take in.
So, now that the material is obtainable, does it make the evolution of Disgrace’s sound more cohesive? Yes, it does, and it does it with style that few other death ‘n’ roll releases manage to maintain. As mentioned earlier, Disgrace’s motivation for altering their style was to let them better adapt to the ferocity of their live gigs, and the sheer vitriol truly shines through, grabbing the listeners mercilessly by their necks and pulling them straight into a sea of churning riffs, rallying percussion and bellowed vocals. Take Grey Misery’s non-demo tracks, add a considerable amount of bounce and balls, and you get this. When compared to its predecessor, the stylistic homogeneity and record brevity (the thing clocks in at just over half an hour) help improve the impression.
What’s in store musically? Pure formative death ‘n’ roll of the highest caliber. The guitars and drums lock into lively, grooving riffs caught somewhere between tried-and-true hard rock and death metal. If you’re after violent displays of ferocious blasting and tremolo picking, this record won’t do the trick… but it has to be said that the bouncy, vibrant riffing radiates a contagious, head-bobbing energy that isn’t to be neglected either. Disgrace have a fantastic grasp of the art of the buildup, and are not afraid to use it to truly ramp up the energy level in a way that directly dropping a supercharged riff wouldn’t accomplish. The songs are well-structured, handling the mildly truncated tempo gearbox masterfully and throwing in the occasional slowdown/clean break at just the right moments. “Forever” almost goes overboard by meshing in some spoken word sections over a rolling bass vamp (you get to hear the guy’s ridiculous accent in all its glory) and off-the-wall acoustic resurrection towards the end, but overall it’s a pleasant change of pace for the record.
Picking standouts is challenging, as a high level of quality is maintained throughout. “Distress” does a phenomenal job as an opener, slowly leading the other instruments in with a fantastically toe-tapping, choppy riff that gives way to a bunch of particularly memorable grooves and juicy lead work, but something has to be said about “Mindblade” with its downward evil buildup and energetic outro twist. A few songs tend to blend, but most of them have an identifying factor that enables the listener to easily tell them apart without studiously memorizing the CD.
It’s a pity that this has been buried for so long, if it got released as planned back in 1993 it could have given Wolverine Blues and the others a run for their money, or at least joined the slim pantheon of good death ‘n’ roll. Still, it’s good that it got released now, as the record sure as heck deserves it. Disgrace easily accomplished their goal of creating driving music for a stomping live show (I can effortlessly imagine the crowd going completely bonkers during the likes of “The Earth Silence” post-acoustic intro), and it’s a pity that they didn’t linger around this style longer. It packs enough punch, that’s for sure. But hey, whatever makes the guys happy, at least they do what they want, they deserve it for their phenomenal demos... and for this as well.