Gravestone have existed during two epochs: from 1991 to 1994, and from 2013 to the present day. Two great times for death metal, and obviously enough time to acquire the required technical skill to play a progressive, slightly technical, and very melodic form of the genre. Their only previous release, the EP Simphony of Pain, was put out in 1994. Proud To Be Dead is also an EP, and was released by Sliptrick records on February 24th this year.
Gravestone plays a rather digestible form of death metal – melodic, keyboard infused and very varied. There’s more than a little Scandinavian 90’s melodeath and even death/black in the mix, and there is a certain vibe of positivity and energy evident in the rambuncous playing style. The production is very clear, with several interesting choices. The guitars, for one thing, is slightly soft (even while heavily distorted), and leave plenty of space for the bass, synths and especially the drums. Those same drums deserve some extra comment, because they’ve got an awesome sound. Slightly more in the forefront than would normally be expected, they are extremely powerful and full of ass-kicking punch, even while retaining a very organic sound. Someone knew exactly how to compress and limit to exactly the right degree there, let me tell you.
The style and mood of Proud To Be Dead is somehow similar to Finnish Cerebrum’s promo tape Grief from 1994, even if this is far more professional and well-produced. The combination of melodies, groovy riffs and slightly purer death metal are all things that make the comparison inevitable, whatever other differences there may be. This is more diverse, though, which brings us to the only point of negative criticism that can really be raised against Gravestone’s opus: the coherence, or lack thereof, as it relates to the vocal styles. While different types of vocals can enrich a release, on Proud to be Dead the use of different types of growls and screams follows the music in a way that feels somewhat contrived. When there are passages slightly more black/death sounding, the vocals consist of mid-to-high pitched screaming, when there’s heavier death metal parts they turn to deep growls. It’s not a constant thing, but it is enough to overemphasize the eclectic elements of the sound, and to make some songs feel like patchworks of different genres. It would have been much better to stick to the deeper growls, or at least to mix things up so that the vocals didn’t follow the “genre” of particular riffs and sections quite as close.
This is not as important as it may seem (we just needed to use lots of space in order to try to explain it properly). After all, the vocals still do sound great. Furthermore, the EP has some original and interesting lyrical content going on (the divinity in suffering, Lovecraft’s Dreamworld etc). The songs are all catchy and full of great riffing, and the combination of 90’s sounding melodies with an updated, but not too updated, production makes Proud to be Dead a really pleasant experience. Moving between heaviness, melody and aggression, and not fearing the proper use of synthesizers, Gravestone have created a quite splendid little piece of progressive death metal. It will be very interesting to see what they come up with on future releases.