Italy’s dark metallers Graveworm release their ninth album, Ascending Hate, on July 7. This album marks the return of guitarist and songwriter Stefan Unterpertinger after a break of over a decade, but that doesn’t mean a return to 2003’s Engraved in Black (his last album with the band). The new album has the grandeur of symphonic black metal, but continues the band’s shift toward death metal with growled vocals and aggressive riffs that are sometimes thunderous, sometimes epic and melodic. There are still a few touches of gothic keyboard here and there, but even more than that, the whole album is also suffused with melancholy doomy guitar à la Finnish bands like Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum.
Although its influences are clear, the album defies genre categorization as its sound shifts from frenzied assaults of blast beats and harsh vocals, to epic guitar riffs, to achingly beautiful doomy passages – and this breadth of styles can be heard in almost every song. For instance, my favorite track, “Blood Torture Death,” is reminiscent of Dethklok’s bombastic brutality, right down to the song title. But it also begins with a beautiful doomy intro that soars to epic heights, and more melancholy doomy flavor is woven in throughout the song, even a short bridge in the middle that wouldn’t be out of place in a Swallow The Sun song. At the end of the song, the mournful waves of doomy guitar converge with the guttural harsh vocals, seamlessly marrying the two into an ending both brutal and lovely.
As a fan of melancholy melodic death/doom, I can’t help being drawn to other tracks with strong doomy flavors, such as “Stillborn,” a slow, sorrowful song with guitar work that alternates between mournful doom and cascades of atmospheric tremolo. You could almost mistake it for a death/doom song – but there are also some vicious shrieked vocals and a breakdown at the end with melancholy guitars and synth/keyboard soaring above it.
Another of my favorites is the last track, “Nocturnal Hymns Part II (Death’s Anthem),” with its opening riffs that sound like the most atmospheric extreme of Amon Amarth’s catalog. This song delves into the most epic and melodic sounds that death metal has to offer with shredding and a twin guitar solo, but not without including some soaring synth to give that symphonic level of grandeur, and growled and shrieked vocals to keep it brutal and dark.
While there are moments of melody and melancholy in all of the songs, most of the other songs rely a bit more on traditional death metal sounds – blastbeats, rumbling riffs, low growls – which I personally don’t find as interesting. This makes them blend together a bit for me, but “Blood Torture Death” alone makes the album worth a listen, and the other songs from a dark and dramatic backdrop to set the mood.