UK death metal is stronger now than at any time since the early 1990s. You can reel off the likes of Venom Prison, Celestial Sanctuary, Grave Miasma, Repulsive Vision and Slugdge without a moment’s thought. The variation among the artists dwelling in the depths of metal’s most morbid genre is as impressive as their determination to push the levels of malevolence and misanthropy into new domains. Some prefer the primitive death metal of Obituary and early Carcass; others spice their brutal sonics with virtuoso skills; a small minority even turn to low-tuned guitars and syncopated chugs to unleash their vicious attack. Nottingham’s Beyond Grace fall into the last camp on a musical level but are just as comfortable in Venom Prison’s vitriolic protest politics and anti-authoritarian ideology.
Before we assess if death metal is a suitable medium for tendentious politics and acerbic accusations, we must start with the quality of the music. There’s no doubt the members of Beyond Grace can play. Listen to the grimy doom metal of ‘Dark Forest Doctrine’ as it gives way to a succession of sharp triplet patterns and grinding eighth note beats. This is what Necrophagia would sound like if Frank Pucci were still alive and fronting a band like Ingested. Vocalist and lyricist, Andrew Walmsley, puts his quill to good use here with the zeitgeist at the forefront of his mind: “We view the world in black and white/ A world where only might makes right/ A place of brutal need, with no pity for the weak.” Ouch! These words are just as unforgiving as the chugs and ninth chords in the middle eight.
‘Barmecide Feast’ and ‘Hive Mind’ place their ire in the direction of the plutocracy that rule the world and the monotheistic religions that claim to understand it. It’s fast death metal that stays clear of blast beats and goes heavy on the gurgling bass grooves and dual vocal ferocity. It works a treat when they lock in on this formula. The nasty tremolo chugging of ‘Persona Non Grata’ is darker than Jimmy Saville’s idea of fun and just as introspective as Ulcerate at their best. A browse through the lyrics reveals a righteous song about the moral duty of human beings to speak up for the oppressed and persecuted to stop tyrannical governments from eroding further freedoms. Walmsley’s stanzas ache with the same poignancy as Hertha Müller’s classic dystopian novel, The Land of Green Plums. “First they came for the weakest/ And I was silent/ Then they came for the strong/ And still I held my tongue/ So when they came for me/ There was no-one left to bear witness/ To my defiance.”
Those of you that would rather bury your heads in a nasty shock of pummelling guitars and slamming double-kicks have nothing to worry about on Our Kingdom Undone. Beyond Grace never forget that their first duty is to death metal. ‘The Price of Peace’ is quintessential death-thrash like Bolt Thrower but spliced with the spiralling rhythms of the latest Jinjer record. They even give us a ray of light with sporadic piano splashes towards the end. This is what Frozen Soul would sound like with more vigour and less hypothermia.
If there’s one thing that holds back the Nottingham heroes, it’s their decision to squander choruses with the flat monotone of the death grunt when a vicious mid-pitched scream could do the job. ‘Factions Speak Louder than Herds’ has an important message about the tendency of small and well-organised interest groups to exercise a pernicious influence on modern politics, but the lyrics receive a growled rumble when they need to be salivating in pain and anger. ‘Barmecide Feast’ suffers from the same problem. The benchmark for this type of tirade is Slayer’s ‘God Hates Us All’, but Our Kingdom Undone lacks a song of this brilliance.
These gaping issues make the band’s decision to end the record with a twelve-minute tirade a questionable one, yet they pull it off in style. The title track thrives on a down-picking riff and a succession of hooks that change with each verse. Walmsley does not mince his words or hide his left-wing misanthropy here: “Now the best lack all conviction/ But the worst are filled with passion/ And the rest no longer even seem to know the difference any more…” Beyond Grave are proud of their anti-fascist stance, but you don’t hear many mystical black metal bands espouse this level of elitism in a genre that promotes elitism as a virtue. The exotic bass noodling and chunky palm-muted action of the two guitars will keep you engaged for the entirety of the song if you’re determined to stay neutral during the band’s political discourse.
It’s rare we get death metal with such a perspicacious grasp of the big political issues of the age, even if Beyond Grace sometimes fall into cliché and conspiracy theory. Our Kingdom Undone could be a harbinger of greater things to come if they continue on this path.
Release Date: 03/09/2021
Record Label: Prosthetic Records
Standout tracks: Dark Forest Doctrine, The Price of Peace, Persona Non Grata
Suggested Further Listening: Overtoun – This Darkness Feels Alive (2021), Baest – Necro Sapiens (2021), Frozen Soul – Crypt of Ice (2021)