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Drinking Blood from Death Metal’s Heart: Gravewards’ “Ruinous Ensoulment”

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I remember reading an interview with the artist Simon Bisley back in the day. In it, he noted that he was listening to a lot of death metal while working with deadlines. I imagine the music was aiding the speed he needed to work in. Bisley is of course famous for his work in the magazine Heavy Metal, his run on Lobo, and all other brilliant kinds of stuff. That interview always stuck with me, and I would certainly concur that extreme metal, though singular and very much regimented, is ideal for pumping out illustrations of the dark variety (something Bisley is a master at).

Gravewards is a Greek death metal trio in the old-school vein, humming with contemporary bursts (e.g. their counterpoints blend seamlessly). Their new album Ruinous Ensoulment sticks to the standard death metal form, a practice that ignores outside influence and always makes its own rules (those rules though, are always pretty much similar in their particular context). In religion, ensoulment is the act where a human is given a soul. That’s a fucked-up idea, and the record has a weighty and schizophrenic heaven/hell feel. Something lurking, like a choice, or the precarious balance between doing something terrible and doing something good.

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I thought since I’ve had a hard time writing about music of late (and writing about anything actually), a better way to approach the record would be to do something like I used to do: draw pictures while listening to it. I listened to the whole of Ruinous Ensoulment — an album that is very good and works well because it feels real and you can pinpoint exactly where all three members are — and I did a watercolor painting/drawing in the vein of its mood.

by Christopher Harrington
by Christopher Harrington

The album’s eight songs go by fast, a whirling darkness in strong pattern. Death metal is music that is about death, space, and horrid things. It’s regimented, and relatively plain when you consider its ability in varying corridors of expression. It’s hard for a death metal band to be anything but a death metal band, and that’s pretty limiting artistically. I was listening to Obscura’s upcoming release and you could tell the trouble they were having being a band locked in a box. A lot of it has to do with the voicing that is used. Death metal bands struggle with variance. Bands that have death metal elements but are clearly not death metal bands (e.g. Mr. Bungle, Candiria) can fuse varying forms with success, but even a band as experimental as Portal cannot separate completely from its inherent death metal form.

That’s what makes a band like Gravewards refreshing. They know who they are, and this is a powerful thing. The death metal they wield is one of confidence and rigor. There is no varying and balancing of ideas. Back in the day I drew a lot to records like Altars of Madness (Morbid Angel), Beneath the Remains (Sepultura), and Gallery of Suicide (Cannibal Corpse). Albums with that absolute confidence and rigor. Ruinous Ensoulment is very much in the vein of those albums: hard, twisting with madness and pain, dark, and energetic as hell.

My piece above is a tribute to Gravewards and their new record. Old school even it its total direction.

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