Clearly not intent on taking prisoners, ‘Tortumantra’, the latest album from Gravdal, opens with a blast of primitive fury offset by the strangely jazzy bass runs and off-kilter tempos that the band employ to good effect on this beautiful, brutal progressive effort. With a guest appearance form no less than Niklas Kvarforth of Shining fame, this follow up to 2008’s ‘Sadist’ is a complex, savage beast that requires several listens to get under its skin but which rewards patience with an intelligent take on black metal endorsed by (amongst others) members of the mighty Enslaved.
Having grabbed the attention from the off with the beautifully played ‘Hydrestund I Helvete’, which underscores not only the talents of the musicians involved but also the production skills of Herbrand Larsen who gives the whole things a deep, dark sound worthy of the prowess of the people involved, Gravdal then offer up the heavy yet surprisingly accessible ‘Slave’ which features all the elements you might expect of a hardened black metal band but arranged in a way that might appeal to those outside the genre’s forbidding borders without alienating the band’s fanbase. Heavy, frosty and yet deeply memorable it’s a track destined to become a classic standard of a band not afraid to experiment with any musical element that they deem fitting. ‘Eg E Ditt Helvete’ is no less impressive thanks to the band’s uncompromising time signatures, syncopated rhythms and unnerving effects which sound, in the introduction, not unlike pigs being slaughtered. Undoubtedly progressive, the development that Gravdal have shown over the course of one album is astounding and it is of no surprise at all that they have gained the respect of their peers given the astounding talent on display here. Moreover there is a dark-hearted passion burning brightly at the centre of the songs thanks, in part, to Galge’s passionate vocal performance which is firmly disciplined and absolutely on-the-money throughout.
One of the many highlights of the album appears in the form of the stark, beautiful, unnerving ‘mishandlet’ – the result of a collaboration with Niklas Kvarforth and detailing the difficult subject of abuse, it is a remarkable track that is both heavy and yet melodic and shot through with a blackened fervour that few bands could match. That vein of intensity carries over into the ominous massed vocals of the untitled fifth track which proves to be a segue between ‘Mishandlet’ and the explosive title track which sees the band carving up expectations with a straightforward blast of pure heavy metal blood and thunder complete with killer riff and doom-laden mid-section. The awkward, juddering ‘Pulsen Vakler’ rears its ugly head next with an awkward riff and off-kilter vocals vying with militaristic drums to create a thoroughly unhinged sound from beyond the realms of darkness. ‘Klastert Pa Ambolt’ opens as a funereal march wreathed in gothic fog and eerie hammer horror sound effects before unleashing a stately riff notable for its elegant tempo and Galge’s increasingly violent vocal exhortations over the top. Final track ‘Slutt’ rounds out things in suitably violent style with a grinding, urgent riff set atop machine-like drums and Galge unleashing his last reserves of energy upon the battered microphone.
Gravdal is the sound of tortured black metal at its finest. It comes as no surprise given the elements that came together for this release, but it says much for this talented band that the guest appearance of Niklas Kvalforth merely augments rather than overshadows the rest of the work here. The progressive elements which include clean vocals (often used in tandem with the more typical growls), the use of mellotron, unusual time signatures and shifts are all so well implemented that the whole sounds utterly coherent and truly remarkable. If this is the leap that Gravdal can make in the course of just one album then it is hard to imagine how they’ll sound next time out, this is a stunning, blackened work of art that deserves a place in any black metal fan’s collection.