Paul Ledney (Profanatica and Havohej) might sound dismissive when he says this about European black metal, “You can’t argue with my point that it’s not heavy,” but for context, he also claims US black metal started with Possessed’s Seven Churches. Some hot takes, to be sure, but there is some truth to the idea that many USBM acts are chunkier and more punishing than their Nordic predecessors. Profanatica certainly fits this bill, but New York City’s Gravesend could be the best example in recent memory. It has the filthy, eviscerating brutality of East Coast deathgrind, but a sense of lurking fear keeps it locked in the dark corridors of black metal. After turning some heads last year with their Preparations for Human Disposal demo, the trio puts a method to the madness with this precocious debut LP.
Naming a single after the infamous nickname for Sherman Square in NYC should get the point across, but the music video for “Needle Park” clarifies the intent of Methods Of Human Disposal (NSFW, by the way). If Darkthrone meets Bolt Thrower isn’t intense enough, the imagery of crack fiends and urban decay pushes it over the top. There’s a dirtiness to “Ashen Piles Of The Incinerated” and “End Of The Line” that can be felt in spirit as well as sonics. Beyond the disgusting distortion and primitive violence of Gravesend lies an unflinching look at the dark side of the city that never sleeps. Sporadic field recordings and spoken word deepen this vibe, taking cues from streetwise powerviolence to complete their formidable assault.
Minimalist synth interludes “Fear City” and “Eye For An Eye" deepen the album's dismal atmosphere, much like John Carpenter’s Escape From New York soundtrack. Gravesend illustrates the slums of NYC like a dungeon synth intro would medieval ruins, before the other 24 minutes rudely introduce boots to teeth. These reprieves from the carnage are welcomed, even though “Fear City" comes off like a false start. The barrel-chested instrumental dirge “STH-10” leading directly into the title track feels like the real beginning, and what a beginning it is. The blunt force trauma balances quite well with the witchy vocals, bringing to mind war metal acts like Revenge and Bestial Warlust, but there are more discernible riffs to glean from the racket.
Said riffs range from avalanches of grindcore noise, simple mosh riffs, and some acrobatic tremolo-picked lines. In any case, the drums are always abusive and the bass tone is always grating, which helps “Subterranean Solitude” barrel from bludgeoning death metal to lo-fi black metal grooves more satisfyingly. The brutality remains constant, muddying the distinction between Gravesend’s various influences. It’s definitely possible to extract certain genres from “Unclaimed Remains,” whether it be stomping Blaze in the Northern Sky riffs or bomb-blasting deathgrind. But overall, the album amounts to a freight train jumping the tracks and crashing into a convalescent home. It’s ugly and horrible, but oddly fascinating.
These songs sport remarkable variety, considering their abject harshness and short runtime. The moshy, almost hardcore-inspired grooves of “Verrazano Floater” contrast nicely with the break-neck speed of “The Grave’s End,” but Gravesend’s gnarly low-end crunch works wonders in both environments. In this way, “Absolute Filth” can live up to its name without losing coherency. Yeah, the riffs aren’t exactly original, but it's great to hear a newer band balancing raw force and tight execution so naturally. Taking the time to sift through the brain-bashing rage reveals some undeniably catchy ideas.
If there’s any universal language in heavy music, it’s punchy mid-tempo riffs like the start of “Trinity Burning.” It’s something fans of anything from old-school Mayhem and Bay Area thrash to modern hardcore can appreciate before the wall-of-sound Napalm Death worship separate the men from the boys. It’s all equally unfriendly, but each wave of torment hits differently. By the time “Scum Breeds Scum” rolls around, Gravesend has painted a vivid picture of an urban nightmare with a color pallet of grindcore, death metal, and black metal.
There are only so many ways to say, “this is disgusting, but in a good way,” but that’s really the feeling left from closer “Concrete Feet." Teetering on the edge of collapse, the brazen power and nasty production of Methods Of Human Disposal is highly compelling in and of itself. Gravesend uses a short-and-sweet format and consistent quality to incubate in the listener a need for more, but taking a closer look at the chaos reveals nuance in the most unlikely places. Gravesend has a solid debut under their belt, and a few stylistic avenues to explore on subsequent releases.