Review Summary: Grave pleasures forget to highlight the pleasure.
Just like with occult rock and crust punk, the obsession with the post-punk sub-genre is now becoming increasingly ludicrous, to the point where bands emanating from this (relatively) new musical movement are proving themselves to be copycats of Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees, among others. Yeah, it's frustrating, but within each freshly revived sub-genre is quite a devoted cult following. That's probably why Beastmilk were once hailed as "kings of the underground" upon the release of debut album Climax
. Beastmilk have moved on however, under a different guise entitled Grave Pleasures, which contains an apocalypse-loving warbler and one of the ex-members of The Oath, Linneá Olsson. 2015 sees the release of Grave Pleasure's debut album (or second Beastmilk release for some), Dreamcrash
, and it turns out to be more of a crash than a dream.
The real problem with Dreamcrash
is that it never really accelerates. The fastest song on the album is the two and a half minute "Taste the Void", which, even at such a short runtime, seems to plod on into oblivion. Each of the eleven songs here end up being more of a build-up to a non-existent climax than actual songs with a beginning, middle and end. However, the songwriting formula for Grave Pleasures seems pretty obvious, whether you love them for it or not. There is variety, of course, but that's in regards to the sound and musicianship, not the overall quality. The album begins appropriately enough with the somewhat frantic "Utopian Scream", which indeed would be completely suitable for an adult Halloween soundtrack. Matter of fact, every song here could fit into such a soundtrack. Now, "Utopian Scream" turns out to be one of the album's best songs, as well as one of the simplest. It's just about the only song on the album where you get the impression Grave Pleasures enjoyed performing it in the studio, as the rest of the album is mostly on auto-pilot. "New Hip Moon" and "Crying Wolves" are notably more down-tempo but simply can't match the opening salvo of "Utopian Scream". A comparison isn't needed here, but at least Dreamcrash
is introduced in the right way, even if it loses all consistency as it progresses towards the inevitable end.
Now for the divisive aspect of Grave Pleasures: the warbling vocalist who sounds like he's kneeling over a grave weeping for some lost, forgotten soul. For some, Kvohst's vocals are incredibly effective given the surrounding musicianship, and I can personally agree to that. Indeed, he seems confidently adapted to the mysterious aura of retro guitar sound and shaky drum rolls, yet when his voice extends beyond a mere accompaniment for the instrumentation, it almost seems like he's isolated. That's not a good thing, because when this happens, the weakness begins to show. It's almost as if the self-indulgence in songs such as "Futureshock" and "Girl in a Vortex" doesn't really count for anything, and that can safely be attributed to how Kvohst's vocals seem useless at times. There are even songs where you get the impression he just doesn't need to do anything, apart from maybe dance the night away. "Futureshock" and "Crying Wolves" are perfect examples of this, where the instrumental performance seems so confident and oblivious to any other distraction that the addition of vocals is almost shoehorned in. A shame, since "Futureshock" develops promising songwriting and talented musicianship, even at times bordering on the epic.
The instrumental performance itself consistently tries to stay relevant, but fails to impress more than it actually shows off. In songs such as "Utopian Scream" and "Futureshock", where the explosive delivery is actually there when you expect it, the band get instrumental performance spot on. Elsewhere, as in the painfully long "Crooked Vein" and "Crying Wolves", there's a considerable lack of energy which oozes over the "try-too-hard" work ethic when adapting to the listeners' presumably high expectations, eventually resulting in something entirely forgettable. The album hits even lower musical quality with "Lipstick on Your Tombstone", though at least it's slightly more enjoyable than "Crooked Vein" . The former sounds like a shoddy out-take of the soundtrack from an even shoddier B-movie you could only find in the deepest foreign recesses of Youtube. The latter gives you the impression that Eeyore is writing his memoirs before hanging himself because his friends are just too happy all the time. But seriously. These two songs border on utter failure of attempting to unite retro-sounding musicianship with danceable vibes and shivering vocal delivery, and unfortunately they mask exactly what the album's major flaw is: A lack of vigour and gusto in the songs that essentially need it most.
Grave Pleasures have taken several steps back from what Beastmilk did with Climax
, and that album wasn't exactly revolutionary in the common sense of the word. It's almost as if Grave Pleasures, during the production of Dreamcrash
, never really gained understanding of how to resonate with their own fan-base. It's almost as if the songwriting expectations from Beastmilk's likely followes became so hard to deliver that the band just ended up passing whichever ideas fell into the churning grave. It's unfortunate, because the album has very promising moments-"Utopian Scream", "Futureshock" and "Crisis" being the highlights. Yet elsewhere, the album feels like it's one whole collection of unwanted B-sides from the decaying proverbial attic. You can certainly dance to this album if you like, but listening to something like a nice big ABBA "best of" collection would probably be more worthwhile.