What was the first bit of heavy music you ever heard in your life? Did you level up, gaining mana from the ear-peeling riffs and shouts? Lovers of extreme metal surely have had experiences like this in their lives, where their entire world is tossed upside-down a new band, or a clutch of new demos from an emerging scene. This is how my ears felt hearing Grief Symposium, with a new take on the Death / Doom sub-genre with their debut, …In The Absence of Light (Church Road Records). Although mysterious and secretive, they did not set out to reinvent extreme music, but rather invent themselves, and a sound that should echo for a long time.
Just about any time you hear a church bell in metal, it is the harbinger of something terrible and great. The opening seconds of …In The Absence of Light’s first track “Among Dead Gods” has the old-familiar ominous church tones and what sounds like hysterical worshipers, or hysterical worshipers being slaughtered, but am unwell and prone to wild fantasies at times. Immediately, I am shocked awake by the sheer filthy riffs, crushing beats, and gnarly vocals. A solid few minutes of anguished, slow riffage gives way to a proper beating of jagged riffs and howls. There is a fantastic return to broody hideousness in the middle of the track that includes some cool atmospherics. Off to a great start!
With a decided shift to raucous, careening Blackened Death Metal licks played at neck-breaking ferocity, “Temple of Decay” will just melt your face off. Something hungry and very unhappy is trying to get free from the vocalist’s throat. Again, we slow down to a proper chopped (in half) OSDM-style death metal stomp, before winding up for total bedlam for the final measures. One of several prime mosh parts of the album.
While the album is not outwardly a conceptual release, there are familiar anti-religious themes and anti-authoritarian moods that don’t flinch for the entire album. Added to this is the enigma that permeates the group; their artwork feels esoteric are moody, and the members going only by their initials holds the vibe. Self-described as “monolithic dark metal” – the music is here to do the talking for them and lives up to every bit of that promise.
“In The Shadow of The Sleeping Monarch” is an epic clocking in at over nine minutes long. Doomy, and straight ahead like classic Bolt Thrower, or non-grind Carcass would present. It’s also nearly proggy in one part that definitely put a smile on my face. At the three-quarter mark of the song, following one of the most brutal passages of the record, we get a complete 360-degree turn; lovely piano, angelic vocals, and synthy strings that transform the track into something else entirely. This shows a breadth of writing ability, which we don’t often see in this genre.
The next track “Veil of Transformation” returns to the beating over the head with a riff bat with insane gutturals and some guitar figures that would have Gorguts envious and will make old-school tech death heads lose their shit. Never falling prey to copying, the band has the familiar moments of the great ones, but still seems to be striving to give every track its own personality.
I am unsure if the members of this band are gamers, for instance, Diablo, but tracks with titles like “Descent Into Pandemonium“ it gives off “smoldering dungeon of despair-level II” on hard mode feels. “Descent…” is more atmospheric, and close to an early Opeth at their most dour and depressed, before erupting into another nasty movement. Black Metal fans who also love blasphemy, lakes of fire, and demonspawn from the bowels of Hell, please take note.
One of two longer tracks to close the album – “Esoteric Mirrors” has another unrelenting opening salvo. A fun track that savors all of the little emotions of dynamic heavy music. Following some ethereal synths from the penultimate cut, they give way to a wash of sounds to open the closing track “The Amber Kiss of The Sun.” After the intro, we get an almost 1980s-sounding (Fairlight synthesizer? Peter Gabriel-influenced?) dreamy soundtrack thing that Trent Reznor would put in a score for the pivotal moment in a movie by David Fincher. Oh, and Aaron Stainthorpe of My Dying Bride shows up, as he does, to contribute a spoken word/poem. He has been showing up everywhere of late, guesting on records, and it’s always welcomed.
The term “heavy music” has been pushed in a bold new direction, and you will be hard-pressed to hear a more savage, yet diverse album of this stripe in 2023.
Buy the album here:
8 / 10