Over the past several years, Sweden and traditional heavy metal have proven to be a match made in heaven. There is no shortage of great bands coming from this country, and Gravebreaker is the next in a long line of old-school sounding groups. Rather than the squeaky-clean production and flashy guitar playing of countrymen like Enforcer and Screamer, Gravebreaker offers a more basic, subdued approach. Their songwriting is subtler, with a greater emphasis on atmosphere and attitude. Though tracks like “Sacrifice” and “Pray For Death” are undoubtedly catchy, they aren’t the sing-along anthems that many of the band’s peers create.
As the darker, more satanic themes imply, one of Gravebreaker’s biggest influences appears to be King Diamond/Mercyful Fate. This is evident musically as well, as a number of songs use keyboards to create a haunting sound. “At The Gates of Hell” provides the most effective example of the band’s ability to conjure bone-chilling melodies via keyboard, but there are also several other moments towards the end of the record where the band revisits this style. Songs like “Violent City” and “Kill and Kill Again” also show that the band can rock out even without the use of atmospherics, instead letting good riffs take centre stage (the latter song does use keyboards, but in a more melodic fashion).
The sole weakness of Gravebreaker’s more laid-back approach is that it has resulted in a thin production. It isn’t so much that the guitars fall into the background often, but rather that they don’t pop out. As a result, though there are some great riffs on “Sacrifice”, they don’t stick once the album is over. Nevertheless, one highlight is the band’s title track: “Gravebreaker”. Opening with excellent Iron Maiden-styled harmonies, this song also offers some of the band’s fastest and thrashiest work. There is a clear energy flowing through this song in a way that the band doesn’t replicate anywhere else on the release.
Gravebreaker must be praised for taking a different approach. While I’ve always preferred the flashier style of modern traditional heavy metal, there is undoubtedly a big market for this sound as well. Gravebreaker plays it as convincingly as any other band out there, and their usage of keyboards is by no means forced or contrived-sounding. There are a number of excellent raging tracks on this release, and ultimately, it makes for a satisfying release that shows considerable potential for the future.
Be sure to check out Gravebreaker on Bandcamp!
"At The Gates of Hell"
4.0/5 or 80%.
Written by Scott