Saturday, May 1, 2010

Grave Robber - Inner Sanctum (2009)

I am not a first impressions guy.  This is something I consider to be a major quality, which is completely opposite what everyone is told in regards to living their lives.  The idea of "first impressions" is drilled into our collective conscience via nearly every media outlet, teacher, parent, etc.  The problem, however, is that first impressions, while great for job interviews & professional situations, are not something you can rely upon at the level of confidence that this world would have you believe.  Indeed, you may meet the person God intended to be your marriage partner on an off day and they're a complete jerk to you.  If you're a first impressions-only person, and you dismiss further contact or interaction with this person because they didn't carry themselves the way they ought to have, wouldn't you feel sheepish if you knew you had blown off a major opportunity because you let your "first impression" rule the day or let your ego get in the way of a potentially fruitful relationship?

It is with that in mind that I begin to discuss "Inner Sanctum".  At first blush, I was disappointed that it lacked the "fun" factor that it's predecessor "Be Afraid" had, with all the sing-songy choruses that contrasted so well with the allegorical subject matter.  Singing joyfully along with a chorus like, "I wanna kill you, over and over again" has a certain irony to it that can only be experienced, not fully explained.  The very dichotomous nature of Grave Robber's lyrics (B-grade movie horror lyrics as spiritual allegory) made their debut a winner - the combination of hard-hitting punk rock and semi aggressive vocal attack, combined with overt melody and "sing-along" kind of choruses that made you want to simultaneously pump your fist in the air, and smile from ear to ear.  I didn't get that upon first listen of "Inner Sanctum" - I felt as though the band had lost something.

Then I broke the rule of first impressions and listened again, after taking a break & coming back to it later with a fresh perspective.  Guess what?  I was wrong.  Nearly all the elements are here, they're just peppered with more influences, greater musicianship, and better production.  What I thought was lacking was just more layered in the mix, as the band had grown as musicians and expanded their song-writing palette.  Rather than resting on their collective laurels, the men (or monsters!) in Grave Robber have added additional influences into the mix so they're more than just a mere Misfits clone; they have now transcended that tag and have begun to forge their own identity.

Instrumentally speaking, Grave Robber have raised the bar for themselves.  Everything is tighter, Lamentor's guitar is more varied (and heavier), and the inclusion of melodic guitar solos that do more than follow the vocal melody is a nice touch.  Bass work, while often buried in the mix, is great when audible, and really shows that Carcass is no slouch.  Plague's drum work is well done and has dynamics where necessary, but he can really pound the skins when the song needs that extra push.  And of course Wretched is in fine form, showcasing his deep, rich voice tone in more cleanly sung passages (like much of "Tell Tale Heart") and really pushing the aggressive, throaty tone for rougher passages.  The group "woah-oh-oh" vocals are as good as they were on "Be Afraid", and in some spots better - they carry more difficult melodies here and there, like in "Valley Of Dry Bones".  The band knows how to camp it up when necessary, like in "I'm Possessed" or "Men In Black", but can be serious as well such as in "Fear No Evil" or "The Night Has Eyes".  Also, the band's sped-up take on Black Sabbath's "Children of the Grave" (the unlisted final track on the album) is fantastic, with Wretched's tone is a stark contrast to Ozzy Osbourne's somewhat high-pitched, nasally sound, not to mention the more punk pace of the song, and the band adding their signature sound to it is a nice touch.

Lyrically, I thought perhaps the band was beginning to wear the whole "horror movie lyrics as spiritual allegory" concept thin, but that's not the case.  Instead, they're still doing that with aplomb, but also expanding their abilities. Tell Tale Heart minimizes the horror lyrics, though still present, to sing a simple love song.  "Men in Black" takes the turn from B-movie horror to B-movie sci-fi, which fits well.  "Shadows" is a bit more literal, speaking of spiritual warfare, but still having enough tie-in with the horror genre to make sense, and "Fear No Evil" parallels Christ's suffering on the cross & the emotional journey that may have been like.  So while everything isn't monster-this or evil-that, there's enough of that to please fans of the debut, while the band tries new things & succeeds on other fronts.

So what we end up with is a fantastic sophomore release that puts the band at the forefront of the "horror punk" genre without being so intrinsically tied to it that they can't break free of that tag if & when it suits them.  They have boldly moved forward to show that they're not a "one trick pony" but instead have proven that they have more in them than just simple two and a half minute punk songs about zombies and eating flesh; they have demonstrated what every band should do from their debut to their second album: grow.  Thus, I raise my chalice of blood to toast these ghouls for their success in writing & producing a stellar second album.  Highly recommended.


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