Have you ever thought to yourself, "What if, one day, Profanatica, decided they no longer wanted to write about desecrating churches and angels with giant erections and made a massive heel turn? What if, instead, they pivoted to an extremely intense interest in New York City in the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s?" Then you'd get something close to what NYC's own Gravesend has put together on Gowanus Death Stomp.
Ok, the direct comparison isn't quite fair, as Gravesend doesn't do the octaves-in-unison thing Profanatica does, and the band's sound overall sits comfortably with ruthless contemporaries like Jarhead Fertilizer, Caustic Wound, and Pissgrave. Perhaps a better way to phrase it is like switching your film style from Fulchi and Pasolini to the peak-era films of Abel Ferrara (Ms. 45, Fear City, King of New York, Bad Lieutenant), neck deep in the filth, sleaze, and almost romantic horror of the city in that troubled era.
From 1969 until 1995, the murder rate in New York City never dropped below an annual figure of 1,000 deaths, peaking at the catastrophic number of 2,245 in 1990. And this is all in the context of a smaller population than the city has now. And this isn't even considering the other range of ills that spiked in these decades: sex trafficking, the crack epidemic, armed robbery, carjacking, and just a general atmosphere of fear and dread.
The causes would take an entire book to dissect properly, but just take these numbers and do the rest of the socio-cultural math in your head — in the early 1970s, New York City lost an average of nearly 50,000 industrial jobs every year. Think of the well-publicized impact of deindustrialization on the midwest and Appalachia. Now condense everything that comes with that into America's biggest city. Got the message yet?
And so it's fitting that Gravesend names the album after one of the most industrialized parts of the city, Gowanus, down in the western half of Brooklyn. And while things have begun to change in the neighborhood (particularly since it was declared a Superfund site due for cleanup), Gravesend takes you back into the violent, desolate past — before that part of the borough became a playground for upper-middle-class suburban kids going on their poverty safari in the 2000s.
After an ominous and eerie introduction, "11414" pops things right off with in-your-face aggression: pounding drums, vicious vocals, and blistering guitars. If you want negative, menacing music, Gravesend does it exactly right. It has a distinctly black metal feel, but it's the kind of black metal that you play while beating the crap out of someone. On the other hand, "Even A Worm Will Turn" is the song you play running away when the poor bastard's friends show up.
The album is almost comically consistent, never letting up as it pummels you over and over again. Again and again, the vocals are there to remind you that "there is no hope here," as the guitars, drums and bass tear into the sonic fabric.
But there are some standouts, including the title track. "Gowanus Death Stomp" makes you want to, well, stomp something! It's as anthemic as this kind of music gets. Though "Streets of Destitution" and "Make (One's) Bones" are up there as well, coming very close to sounding like hardcore. The band inevitably has some death metal elements as well, recalling certain the moods you'd normally find in bands like Bolt Thrower, Grave, Obituary, and early Morbid Angel. Listen to "Crown Of Tar" and "Thirty Caliber Pesticide" to hear what I mean. And, well, if you just want full-speed-ahead war metal, "Mortsafe (Resurrection Men)" should do the trick.
In attempting to capture the atmosphere and terror of New York's bleak decades, Gravesend has accomplished a rousing success. Indeed, as tried-and-true topics become more predictable (e.g., Satan, "the void," Reddit-tier anti-Christianity), the more creative and talented bands will look for other topics to mine for screams, riffs and blasts. May the death stomp carry on!