Gravestone – Proud To Be Dead (2017)

Their first record in literal ages, this EP follows the Italian progressive death metallers debut Symphony Of Pain released in ’94. Yes, I said ninety-four. So better late than never and that certainly can be said with a record of this caliber. What you need to know about Gravestone first and foremost is that these guys aren’t prog-death in the sense of Opeth or latter Edge Of Sanity. They’re more of a Gothic progressive death metal in the way that feels more like an ominous church hymn and less like that of a flashy female vocalist fronting dark synths and tired downtune. Nope, Gravestone are the real deal and sound like a band we’ve needed for at least a hundred years now. I’m actually reminded of super early Tristania (and I’m talking Widows Weeds) and super early Graveworm. You know, when Gothic death metal was actually good. I will say that Atrocity‘s Okkult album was a very good representation of this genre too, but we haven’t had anything like that in a while – at least until these guys came into play.

The disc begins with the sound of a flatline, which adds unexpected twinkles (and yes, I do mean twinkles – these things sound particularly eerie) later punching up into familiar death metal. There’s very little I have to say about the album’s opener and title cut, sans the very interesting approach to drumming and the proggy nodes that are coming from Marco Borrani and Gabriele Maschietti’s axes and Fabrizi Di Carlatonio’s kit. It also doesn’t take very long before you get a whiff of the compositional skills that this sextet (yes, there are six people in this act) possess, and maybe a hint of neoclassical Castlevania at the end, because why not?

Next we have the pounding organ-backed death metal of “Corpse Emobodiment” to satiate our appetites, as both brutality and class are executed proficiently. To explain all of the tapestries woven into this piece would be a nightmare, but just know that it’s a wonderful night for a curse. I especially love the the whirling keyboards, and light fog effects that seem to give this performance such a meaningful Gothic edge. There’s a solo here as well, which is nothing less than perfect, despite it’s short-length. I can’t blame them for ending the piece in such a ravenous manner though. “Eyes Without Sight”comes right after, with an amazing neoclassical presence that only becomes all the more awesome when those gothic keyboard elements come into play. Of course, David Folchitto’s drumming is a large part of this and rightly so, considering the experience he’s had being in no less than eighteen acts. Some of those he’s still acive in, like Arkana Code, Mesosphera, Nerodia, Screaming Banshee and Stormlord. The guitar solo in this piece was also cut a bit short, but to allow for such a misty whispered approach is something I’ll definitely accept. Not that it actually matters. “Flagellation” rolls on next, as bassist Massimilano Maax Salvatori becomes hugely prominent in the almost doom-like atmopsheres which Alessandro Lacobellis performs. His vocals fit this act just perfectly, whether he chooses to utilize a more gravel-filled or coarse approach. The keyboard effects here are right out of Goblin, if you want me to be honest – proof that Italian keyboard skills are clearly some of the best. Not to mention that the whole approach here seems like something right out of Suspiria (the classic Suspiria, not the dreaded remake that we’re about to get – yes, guys – our country is about to turn one of your country’s most beloved horror films into a mockery of which I am not entirely happy about) and these keys just add the real icing on the cake.

The last track on the album, “Matres” actually seems to deal with Suspiria also, which feels a bit ironic considering my last statement. The track actually features narration in the Cradle Of Filth style, with such an atmosphere that it feels primed to rival classic Cradle. I guess I should also mention here that I never understood the decision in Inferno for the character to run from the Mother of Darkness (Mater Tenebrarum), especially considering her first offer of teaching him ancient secrets. Though the building was destroyed and we assume her as well, I think it would have been better to experience death in order to see if there was something else that she really had to offer him. In the occult, death is often seen as a means of rebirth which is what I had literally assumed she was talking about. Only Dario Argento himself knows for sure!

In any case, this piece marks a fitting end to what is a tremendous Gothic progressive death metal EP from these Italian masters. Though it has been two decades since we’ve heard anything from them, I would say that Proud To Be Dead is a perfect place to start. I’m not even really sure how this album can be topped, and in a sea of releases it still manages to stand out above hundreds and even thousands of other discs that I’ve heard since. The Grim Tower highly recommends Proud To Be Dead and hopes that you would add it to your collection. It’s delightfully grim and by far one of the best Gothic death metal albums I’ve heard in years.

(5 Tracks, 30:00)

10/10

https://open.spotify.com/album/0a7sstYtghMGz9wY4805AW

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