Nocturnal Graves – An Outlaw’s Stand


Australian death metal worshippers, Nocturnal Graves, play extreme metal as envisaged by their forefathers in the late 1980s – fast, raw, and blood-thirsty. Now on their fourth album, the quartet are ready to indulge their most perfidious revenge fantasies with their first record since 2018. An Outlaw’s Stand might be from the old school, but its diabolical methods are timeless.

The promo shot for Nocturnal Graves shows four middle-aged men in bullet belts and biker jackets with facial expressions that suggest your teenage daughter might not be safe in their company. Like the blackened thrash and speed metal revivalists of recent years, they enjoy their Venom and Mercyful Fate records, but that’s where the comparisons end. Opener, ‘Death to Pigs’, contains no punk or rock & roll foundations but subsists on the slime of the Floridian death metal scene and the Teutonic thrash of the mid-1980s. Listen to the raspy hiss of the vocals and the dungeon distortion of the tremolo riffs. This is dark and sinister, yet it also boasts an impressive arsenal of improvised guitar shredding. Have Nocturnal Graves heard of Pro Tools? Probably, but they want songs like ‘Command for Conflict’ to leave blood stains on the carpet. Morbid is an understatement.

It’s easy for the technical aspects of the music to disappear in a bottomless pit when the aim is to infect the listener with a nasty virus. But standout track, ‘Across the Archeron’, showcases an exquisite chromatic thrash riff that will have you spinning your head in no time. The drum changes are just as compelling. When was the last time Slayer or Morbid Angel composed something as devastating as this? It’s no fluke, either. They employ the same rhythmic technique on ‘Law of the Blade’ and punctuate it with the intensity of early Pestilence. It’s dastardly and deadly, yet it rocks at the same time.

The formula behind the songs is more of a problem. A crude equation of Morbid Angel’s Altars of Madness plus Sepultura’s Beneath the Remains takes us to the year of 1989. Nocturnal Graves make little effort to emancipate beyond this golden era, which means they also throw in a couple of fillers along the way, like ‘Ruthless Fight’ and ‘Beyond the Flesh’. Fortunately, they inject a frostier avalanche of chords into ‘No Mercy for Weakness’. This allows us to glimpse a possible future where they’re not as enamoured with what came before them. End track, ‘An Outlaw’s Stand’, is another strong effort with blast beats and pentatonic tremolo patterns that give way to a harmonic minor solo. No one can doubt the savagery or purpose of the music on this album.

Death metal is impervious to trends and will always stand out as a reaction to the mainstream. Nocturnal Graves are custodians of the past, the present, and the future, and the genre is safe in their hands. Yet their music is far from safe, even if it has an established formula. These Australians remind us that barbarism can be the best form of entertainment.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 07/01/2022

Record Label: Season of Mist

Standout tracks: Command for Conflict, Across the Archeron, Law of the Blade

Suggested Further Listening: Immolation – Failures for Gods (1999), Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness (1989), Under the Church – Total Burial EP (2021)