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Graveshadow - Nocturnal Resurrection

Graveshadow - CD Review
Nocturnal Resurrection

Nocturnal Resurrection 



CD Info
8 tracks
English lyrics
Mausoleum Records


It’s not all that often we get serious symphonic metal in good ol’ murika. But, we certainly get a version of it here. Graveshadow is from California but there is some European influence, and that seems to have a lot to do with the sound. This is music I expect to hear from Western Europe, anywhere on the continent. But, probably not California. There’s an interesting history to the band, not a long one, we begin in 2012 when rhythm guitarist William Walker teamed up with vocalist Heather M. Smith, lead guitarist Matt Mitchell, keyboardist Valerie Hudak, drummer Roman Anderson, and bassist Ben Armstrong. The sound is heavily influenced by those keys, but there’s more than enough guitar to raise the dead, which, I guess, is the intent of the release. At least based on the album cover and the title. Mixing and mastering for this initial full release was done by Emil “Nightmare” Nodtveidt from the Swedish industrial metal band Deathstars (Nuclear Blast Records). So, you get a nice mix of things, with a heavy influence from Northern Europe. I asked the band about the European involvement, keyboardist Hudak responded: “While the band is fully American, we've been very lucky to have some incredibly talented European artists work with us. Nightmare (Emil Nodtveidt) of Deathstars did the mixing and mastering of our album, which was just a fantastic experience. We've also had the pleasure of having Ralf Scheepers of Primal Fear do guest vocals for ‘Blink’. He really added some epic heaviness to the song.

Smith is a fairly competent vocalist, you don’t find a lot of ‘murikans who can go from a clean vocal to a pretty good growling death metal sound as fast as she can. She’s not up to the level of Catherine Sinegina from Mizantropia in Ukraine but then who is? And the Ukrainians have been doing this style for a long time, ‘murika has been doing Jay-Z and the Bieber. So, you have to be grateful that we are now hearing material that can at least compete with the best from Europe, and Graveshadow is doing a pretty good job of meeting that requirement. There are, in fact, tracks on this release that pretty much compare with the best from Europe, not all of them, but we’re getting closer.

Lyrically we get a mixed bag. This genre tends towards the Gothic and, with a title like this one, you expect a pretty dark rendition of reality. Well, yes and no. There is some darkness to be sure, but it tends to be aimed at personal relations. Some approach pure Gothic themes, Exhumed for instance. Lycan Lust takes us to dark places as does Blood and Fire. Maybe not as dark as the Eastern Europeans but then, maybe that wouldn’t sell as well in California. Anyway, I’ll talk about the best ones, they tend to be musically some of the most interesting as well, go figure. One of the problems I have with ‘murikan music is that they may listen to the music from Western Europe but they just don’t seem to spend enough time figuring out what they’re talking about in the lyrics. And they don’t seem to have a clue about anything from Eastern Europe, and generally, don’t want to. Pity, lots to learn there. Remember, this style of music began, arguably, in Poland, back when ‘murikans were doing Big Hair. Again, Hudak had some thoughts on the topic: “Our passion has always been in storytelling, whether it's stories of our own creation or popular stories from literature and movies. ‘Blood and Fire’, for example, is about Game of Thrones; ‘Blink’ (the track featuring Ralf Scheepers) is about Doctor Who. ‘Lycan Lust’ is on the other side of the coin, our own creation; a story about a werewolf. But even songs about personal struggle can become great avenues for storytelling - ‘Namesake’ and ‘In the Roar of Desire’ are good examples of that.”

Musically, these are some pretty good folks and they’ve done some pretty good writing. And there has to be a tip of the hat to the fact that they let the keyboard player rip it up on most tracks. The guitars are more than adequate as are the drums although they seem, at least to me, to be there to support the keys. And, you’ll get no complaints from me with that arrangement. ‘Bout time someone in this country tried that approach. Keyboardist Valerie Hudak seems to favor multiple keyboards in her approach to the art and the boys seem comfortable letting her take what she needs on many tracks. And, she does it with flair. I suspect she could work comfortably with pretty much any European Gothic machine of my acquaintance with little effort. She talked about her involvement, “There is a strong presence of Nightwish-inspired keyboards, which I think contributes. Nightmare's input really helped us define the atmosphere of Graveshadow. The ethereal mood really lends itself well to storytelling, and I think helps contribute to a symphonic sound. ‘Winter Has Come to Call’ is a great example of that, which was perhaps already our most traditionally symphonic song. But we've also utilized the ‘beauty and the beast’ style vocals that are so popular in symphonic metal. Here in Graveshadow, however, there's a bit of a twist: instead of a male growl and a female sorprano, Heather Michele does both herself. She's really quite incredible.” And that involvement has had a wide influence on the total product, as Hudak points out, “We all really like the epic sound that a traditionally European feel brings, but bringing that to our own music was somewhat of an accidental experiment. The original idea for the band changed a lot when I joined, mainly because my influences are almost entirely from European symphonic metal, and that's the style I was writing my keyboard lines in. As a group, we all really like European metal, and we found that blending our American backgrounds with our admiration for Europe became something totally new, something that hadn't been done before. And not just within our own area, but the genre of symphonic metal itself.”

This release is scheduled for about the time I’m writing this but there’s a little pre release stuff available. Some really strong video for instance, ‘course, this is California and they do tend to have that capability available, even in Sacramento. So, linking out is no problem, give their vids a look, the band is pretty visual. And I suspect that is a major intent. Unless you’re a 13 year old ‘murikan female who thinks nothing matches the sex appeal of One Direction.

Namesake kicks off the mayhem and we get pretty much what the band is about here. Lots of solid guitar work to augment the keys and Ms. Smith shows us she knows how to turn a phrase in multiple vocal styles. The story seems to focus on a historical theme, kings and kingdoms and how power translates. OK, I guess, but probably not as dark as what I would expect from Northern Europe. But the music, no problem, this one makes use of excellent musicians and presents a palatable interpretation of the sound we want to hear.

Lycan Lust is another solid sounding track, some excellent production here. This one is a rocker with some interesting musical twists. The theme is a bit vampiric, a bit Gothic in nature, but, the music drives the track. Solid sounding video too. Especially the part where Smith screams:

Run, Run Love Run / Run, Run!

And he cried out in pain / As I held my love again
While the animal came alive / Under darkness of night
With the full moon in the sky / The beast awoke and took his life
I’m tearing and ripping / As my heart’s rejoicing / Tasting you once again
Try to run, but you’re done / For the demon has won / You’ll never leave me again

Blink is an interesting track. We get some great keys here and Smith does some interesting lyrical work, with an interesting partner. As mentioned previously, Ralf Scheepers of Primal Fear contributes on vocals and gives the track, which is based on Doctor Who, a different feel. Lyrically we get some interesting ideas over those pounding keys:

Cold as stone and unforgiving / Hung’ring for your soul
There’s no salvation / Now / Those you love are sure to weep for
Who you were / One touch and then youre / History

So don’t blink, don’t even blink, blink and you’re / Dead. They are fast, faster than
You, you can believe. Don’t turn your / Back, don’t look away and don’t blink!

Blood and Fire concludes the release with a solid presentation. We begin with a soulful guitar augmented by the keys. Dark, enchanting, and taking us to a solid metal sound. The keys begin to take over at some point and take us to the vocals. Smith does a good job with this one, it’s got a dark theme and she works it well. The girl is at her best with the extreme vocal and she uses it well here over some fine background vocal work. This one is the most European in nature and, probably the best track on the release; shocking, just shocking. Our friend Nodtveidt kicked ass with this one. And, the lyrical theme does nothing to detract from the musical excellence:

Born amidst salt and smoke / so young and unaware
But To the sky / The Dragon will arise

Let's ride / For Blood and Fire / For I am Stormborn

Little not to like about this release, and, one would hope, they’ll move forward with an already solid sound. Maybe even give Hudak a third keyboard. That might prove a challenge.