*** Go to our YouTube channel in the link below to see the video review of this record in episode #20 of the SBR Album of the Week.
East Anglian unit, Grief Symposium, are a great hope for Church Road Records and, by extension, the UK metal scene. Applying the misquoted phrase, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America,” to contemporary metal, translates as “What’s good for Sammy Urwin is good for heavy music.” In case you didn’t know it, Sammy is the Employed to Serve guitarist and co-founder of Church Road Records, and his tastes are often reliable indicators of the hottest new artists in extreme metal and aggressive hardcore. Indeed, you can thank him once again for his winning streak – Grief Symposium’s vicious death-doom noise might be an early contender for the heaviest album of 2023.
Grief Symposium are more than just a death-doom band. First thing you must do is dispense with those clichés of slow-ringing riffs, disconsolate facial expressions, and slow beats. Chronic pessimism and despair are not the dominant features here. If anything, the English quartet go out of their way to redefine death-doom away from the My Dying Bride worship of their contemporaries. Opener, ‘Among Dead Gods’, is the ideal mix of drop-tuned string manipulations and crisp snare hits with the type of hostile guttural vocals you expect from Immolation. When this band erupt, they do it in the psychopathic frenzy of a thrill killer in the throes of erratic impulse control. The violent tremolo rhythms flow unimpeded like an Alpine avalanche. Ugly chord choices drip with savage warning against ears that want to get too close. And yet they surprise you with a switch to clean guitar ponderings and melodramatic spoken word passages before a final climax of brutal riff slaying and aggressive drum work.
Bolt Thrower fans will appreciate the follow up, ‘Temple of Decay’, as much as the admirers of modern death metal darlings, Frozen Soul. At three minutes and fifty-seven seconds, it’s a reminder that Grief Symposium enjoy their faster tempos as much as their mournful ones. The down-picking rhythms are heavier than the soul of an apostate. There’s nothing sludgy about these riffs. You could argue that the guitar tone has more in common with Decapitated and Gojira. Each scale fill and fret progression squirms through the amps like blood seeping through the walls. ‘In the Shadow of the Sleeping Monarch’ appears to use a pitch shifter pedal to get the lowest frequencies from the guitar action. The band charge through a cacophony of tempos before ending the nine-minute composition in the silhouette of a Dead Can Dance sparkle of female vocal harmonies. Sporadic dashes of piano ache in the background. You might even call this a progressive metal experiment with shades of latter-day Anathema.
Knowing when to destroy and when to observe is the greatest strength of this album. ‘Veil of Transformation’ is the violent death metal bruiser with no concern for your health. ‘Descent into Pandemonium’ is the stargazing darkwave song with clean minor-chord guitar progressions and atmospheric dream sequences. The only thing missing is a haunting saxophone improvisation before they step on the distortion and annihilate everything in their radius with the heaviest crunch of guitars your mind cannot fathom until you’ve felt them burrow into your chest from your headphones. It’s cold, horrible, and unforgiving – just how you like it.
Your eyes might squint when you see the running time of closing track, ‘The Amber Kiss of the Sun’. Eighteen minutes seems like an indulgent way to end an album for a death-doom band who pride themselves on writing filthy extreme metal noise for less than one percent of the planet’s population. Instead, they doff their caps to Tangerine Dream and produce a mystifying arrangement of ambient synths and celestial keyboard notes. It’s a remarkable clone if that’s not Aaron Stainthorpe of My Dying Bride providing the narrator voice over the narcoleptic soundscapes. No drums or percussion appear here – this is a search for the inner recesses of your mind in the architecture of hazy electronic oscillations. You might want to end the LP at track six and leave track seven for another time, but it’s worth your perseverance and participation if you surrender to its hallucinogenic charms.
England has a new name on the scene, and they’ll be in many people’s thoughts at the end of the year. Grief Symposium’s debut album shows us that death-doom is far from a one-dimensional concern for unambitious artists and pessimists.
Release Date: 27/01/2023
Record Label: Church Road Records
Standout tracks: Among Dead Gods; In the Shadow of the Sleeping Monarch; Descent into Pandemonium
Suggested Further Listening: Bolt Thrower – Those Once Loyal (2005), Triptykon – Eparistera Daimones (2010), Frozen Soul – Crypt of Ice (2021)