London gloom metal miserabilists, Grave Lines, have more muscle than their name and self-description suggests. Now on their third album since forming in 2015, the quartet play their Black Sabbath riffs with the power of Black Flag and pollute their pentatonic doom tendencies with a vicious strain of post-metal posturing. Throw in an added emphasis on experimentation, and Communion is quite the treat for those of you looking for something with a wider spectrum than traditional doom metal.
The first few notes of opener, ‘Gordian’, confirm that Grave Lines like their low-tuned guitars but not to the level of tuneless absurdity found in many bands these days. Vocalist, Jake Harding, would find it easy to hook up to the guitars with a gravel-throated blues husk, yet he prefers to employ a masculine belting technique with a strain of desperation reminiscent of Kayo Dot’s Toby Driver. Those of you expecting a stoner doom haze will baulk at the gritty street rage on offer here. Follow up, ‘Argyraphaga’, is just as heavy on the biceps as it is on the brain despite a fragile intro of sensitive bass plucks and quiet drum snares.
Have this band been taking steroids since their last record? It’s a good question after the first two tracks, but they soon demonstrate the full scope of their creativity on the eleven minutes of ‘Lycaenid’. Now, Harding embraces an eloquent baritone-bass voice like Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode with the wild remonstrations of Scott Walker. You might even hear the sorrowful foreboding of Morrissey in his register. Drummer, Sam Chase, is the star here, using the rack toms to fill the gaps in the beat at 02:30 seconds. It’s a clever move, and one that raises the volume and sharpens the dynamics in an instant. When the Neurosis rage explodes, it’s a catharsis we can prepare for, like psychiatrists protected from a schizophrenic patient by a pane of bullet-proof glass. The delicate acoustic ending for the last four minutes could be shortened with no depreciating effect, but the fact you can sit through it with minimal agitation is a triumph.
The band want to embrace their Bauhaus and Killing Joke influences on album number three, and you can hear the megaphone protest of the latter in ‘Tachinid’. Imagine Jaz Coleman at Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park with Hawkwind as his backing band. By contrast, the derivative stoner metal of ‘Carcini’ seems predictable and innocuous until they abandon it near the three-minute mark and treat us to a vicious tangent of My Dying Bride’s sinister murder metal. Harding’s brave decision to start album closer, ‘Sinensis’, with a lung-boosting a cappella vocal is perhaps the biggest surprise of the album. Listen how he flattens out the low notes with expert breath control. The delicate folk guitars only add to the esoteric atmosphere. How interesting that the band choose to sabotage this with a sudden burst of unrestrained ‘Iron Man’ guitar savagery before introducing a hand-on-chest aggression. Harding goes in search of a redemptive God, but your ears succumb to the attraction of the industrial percussion and chugging guitars. This is a remarkable way to end the album and should serve as an anthem when they perform it on stage.
It starts like a post-metal album and ends like an avant-garde experiment, but Communion is rich in coherent ideas. The booking agent for Grave Lines will aim to secure them slots on the same bill as the usual doom metal names throughout 2022, but this band deserve a bigger audience and a wider appreciation.
Release Date: 15/07/2022
Record Label: New Heavy Sounds
Standout tracks: Gordian, Argyraphaga, Sinensis
Suggested Further Listening: Fissure of Riddles – The Marble Realm (2022), Kayo Dot – Blasphemy (2019), Agnes Vein – Deathcall (2022)