Recently, a New York Times’ tech reporter wrote a piece about spending a couple of months deliberately ignoring the digital news, internet newsfeeds. Time spent disregarding all that crap in favour of obtaining information via print newspapers. I’m not going to detail his conclusions, but as a reader of this Luddite-ian experiment, two things stood out. First, the author’s sense of revelation that it is indeed possible to step away from the hectic hustle-and-bustle and breakneck pace of modern digital life (including the 24-hour news cycle and social media’s reactive armchair opining) and not have it cripple one’s existence. Secondly, his account of a return to a simpler, more thoughtful experience of culture.
Throwing on a Gravehill record in 2018 is hardly the equivalent of reading "All the News That's Fit to Print." It is, however, on par with limiting the modern world’s overwhelming input. Originally forming in 2001, it wasn’t until a self-imposed hiatus broke five or six years later that the band truly took stride. Since then, it has offered up a moderately prolific run of splits, EPs, and albums amid seemingly ongoing lineup upheaval and members (past and present) juggling multiple projects and bands.
The Unchaste, the Profane & the Wicked is album number four for Gravehill. It not only bursts out with an uncomplicated death metal dagger; it serves as a makeshift time machine, hurtling all within earshot back to when the genre was metal’s unwashed and uncouth redheaded stepchild. When the caveman battery and gravel faceplant guitar tone barrel from the speakers, listeners travel to an era before drum triggers and amplifier simulators. Back to when titling a song “Sabbatic Whore” and littering an album cover with masturbating nuns and a demonic orgy was only going to get called out by grandstanding senator’s wives, not every overly sensitive special interest group under the sun.
It won’t be shocking to hear that there’s not an ounce of wheel reinvention on this album. No one has ever picked up a Gravehill release hoping to be exposed to the sounds of the future ushered in by prodigious displays of flashy talent on seven, eight and nine-string guitars. Neither are the California veterans injecting any erudite delicacy into their clatter. This quintet of miscreants does one thing well and one thing right: putting its collective head down and playing old-school death—all thrills, no frills.
“Bestial Genesis” —even the song titles reek of 30 years ago—starts off with a tired and typical demonic fade-in intro that has plagued metal time immemorial before twisting towards a rollicking homage to both All Guts, No Glory and early Exhumed. “Iron and Sulphur” is unabashed Celtic Frost/Hellhammer worship. It’s certainly not difficult to pick out where “D.I.E.” and “Plague Hammer” take cues from old-school American and Swedish death metal; ripping thrash strangleholds riffs and the influence of first and second wave black metal. As you would expect from any self-respecting defender of the faith, the leads blaze and scream through the minor keys and treat whammy bars like 'roid heads manhandle gym equipment.
This album is the sound of old-school lifers/voracious fans saluting their one and only artistic love. This is nuts ‘n’ bolts, meat ‘n’ potatoes, blue collar lunch bucket metal that prizes experience and lives spent collecting music and merch in pursuit of a regressive atmosphere. The phrase ‘regressive atmosphere’ may, initially, sound disrespectfully negative; but for those looking for an antidote to the clean-room perfection that plagues present-day performance and sound, Gravehill’s nod to the past is a sure bet.
For fogeys tired of bellowing from their proverbial front porches about how today’s kids don’t know shit, The Unchaste, the Profane & the Wicked provides a warm embrace from days gone by. Through it, there’s the opportunity to give your old Bathory, Deceased, Grave, and Sodom albums respite. The chance to experience something new and different, that isn’t really all that new and different, for a change—but not really a change.