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Review: Gravecrawler, Swarm of Bats

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From the grim and frostbitten Pocono Mountains of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania – the hometurf of the Necrosexual – comes the death metal four-piece Gravecrawler. These fretboad freaks are hungry to unleash their blood-soaked vision of technical carnage on their self-released debut album Swarm Of Bats. I personally attest these guys deliver the goods live, as Gravecrawler have shared the stage and many jazz cigarillos with the Grim One in the past year. But does Swarm of Bats capture the brutal grandeur of Gravecrawler’s live shows?

Swarm of Riffs would be a more fitting title for Gravecrawler’s debut. Dark Angel’s Time Does Not Heal supposedly contains over 200 riffs; if so, Gravecrawler are gunning for a close second. Swarm of Bats is a twister of polyrhythmic punishment, chunky guitar riffs and blast beats. You can tell these guys came from a place like the Poconos Mountains, a region with an anemic scene better suited to Linkin Park and Bright Eyes that’s otherwise known for its icy skiing conditions and vacation resorts with heart-shaped jacuzzis. Instead of taking the easy way out and playing in a Sublime cover band during their fantasy football offseason, these dark souls barricaded themselves in their parents’ and girlfriends’ basements and learned their instruments, and it shows on their debut despite the DIY production shortcomings.

Gravecrawler are fronted by indie wrestler Timothy Theory, the Pocono Mountains’ own rock n’ wrestling connection of insane death metal. His growls are reminiscent of Ross Dolan from Immolation and Barney from Napalm Death, two of the best in the business, and there’s a resemblance in guttural screams and overall lyrical presentation to Cannibal Corpse. Theory’s gruff vocals deal with all manner of corpses, bloody chronicles and “Putrid Transmogrification.” Considering how Theory’s idea of a fun weekend involves thumbtacks and piledrivers, it only follows that Gravecrawler’s lyrics are visceral in equal measure.

“Corpse Fall” is one of the standout tracks on Swarm of Bats, kicking off with a classic thrash metal drum beat which gives way to a melodic groove, like a mix of Morbid Angel played through the lens of Gorguts and Atheist. The closing track “Ruin” captures the fat guitar tone and mid-paced tempos similar to Obituary and Entombed with a nasty bass solo at its climax. Each song has memorable breakdowns and neoclassical guitar wizardry on display, but don’t get too attached to any single riff: Swarm Of Bats tends to throw one musical section on top of another without much thought to transitions, repetition, or any semblance of a chorus. But this might be a plus for fans of spastic, guts-splattered death metal.

Delivering thunderous double bass rolls and lightning fast blast beats is Ryan Kleeman (Hashgrinder), who also puts his engineering degree from Kutztown University to use as the album’s producer. The vocal production and drums are clearly mixed, but the guitar, and especially the bass, are under-represented and suffer as a result. The rhythm guitar tone is thick but its presence feels spread thin. The solos sound like they were hastily patched into a MIDI guitar controller in one-takes when perhaps more time to dial in the tone and execution would have maximized the shredding.

Still, Varg Vikernes has released albums that sound like 25 minutes of crackling static recorded from a phone answering machine with a cocker spaniel barking next door and he gets hailed as a pioneer. The merits of production quality are in the eye of beholder.

The Grim One rates Gravecrawler’s Swarm of Bats a three out five empty Franzia boxes. Listen to the album and decide for yourself, but definitely seek them out in the live setting if you’re in the mid-Atlantic region. Necro out.

Necrosexual is the most electrifying man in corpse entertainment. His debut album GRIM 1 is available at Necrosexual.bandcamp.com

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