Review Summary: Maximum Overmurk
Even in a genre that hinges on extremes, it is important to have a sense of self awareness and boundaries. We're led to believe there’s no greater example of the molestation of the death metal archetype than tech-death, where many bands use complexity not as a means but an end, forgoing artistic credibility and descending into gimmickry. The new wave of old school death metal and the more recent blackened-death development (affectionately dubbed as “caverncore”) has done well in reiterating that death metal can be effective without being ostentatious. However, there are always two sides to the coin, and even death metal’s latest foray into the elite isn’t impervious to criticism. Utilising “murk” to the point where it consumes a band’s artistic vision is no more excusable than senseless “wank”, which is where Grave Upheaval’s debut full-length falters.
Grave Upheaval’s untitled debut is adorned with some of the thickest, murkiest, most opaque production ever bestowed upon a death metal record. However, as opposed to crafting any kind of tangible atmosphere or hiding subtle tonal and textural shades, the initially impenetrable wall of noise only masquerades as a cloak for something not quite as interesting as it wants you to think it is. For over 40 minutes, tremolo picked guitars surge like an earthquake over muffled drums, which are sporadically complimented by highly reverberant shrieks. At first, the album comes across as quite fascinating, drawing you in as you attempt to unearth its minutiae. But after repeated listens, you can’t help but feel underwhelmed. Apart from the monolithic closer, which uses incremental tempo shifts to craft something rather climactic, the other six tracks plod along aimlessly, relying on the opacity of the production to sheath their uninteresting arrangements. Most of the tracks delve into slower, doomier sections, which ultimately save the album from being reduced to monotonous trite. These slower sections allow the production to work its magic as intended, pulverising the listener by virtue of its sheer “heaviness”. The complacent and predictable manner in which these sections are implemented however, render them ineffective as song-writing tools. The complete absence of any build-and-release mechanisms suffocates the tracks one after the other, as the songs don’t contain enough substance to capitalise on their hellish sound scapes. As a result, the tracks bleed into each other, thanks to their glaring similarities not only aesthetically, but structurally.
This obviously isn’t the first indication of “caverncore’s” fallibility; nothing is more frustrating than slews of Golgotha
clones. But it is a glaring reminder that like anything, deliberate underproduction can and will be employed to a fault on occasion. Grave Upheaval’s debut doesn’t come without its charms, but it pales in comparison to the sum of its parts. The lack of attention paid to song-writing and textural nuances in favour of uncompromising density proves to be its undoing, demonstrating that muddy sound engineering – just like technical flair – doesn’t compensate for a lack of integrity.