Second Grave, Blacken the Sky: March into Oblivion (Plus Track Premiere)

second grave blacken the sky

[Click play above to stream ‘Afraid of the Dark’ from Second Grave’s Blacken the Sky. Album is available now from the band.]

It is a dark and metallic churn that dominates Blacken the Sky, the ominously titled and awaited debut full-length from Massachusetts four-piece Second Grave. In its tone and structural cohesion, it is for all intents and purposes a metal record, but its pacing and atmosphere find their roots in classic doom as well — rarely does a “doom metal” tag serve to actually be so descriptive, but Second Grave cover both sides of that equation well across the formidable 55-minute/nine-track span of Blacken the Sky. Having been lucky enough to see Second Grave play on several occasions, it’s not really a surprise either that their first album would be so assured of its purpose or that it would display such poise in its execution.

If nothing else, it’s been three years since their second EP, Antithesis (review here), followed their 2012 self-titled initial offering (review here), so it’s not like the lineup of guitarist/vocalist Krista Van Guilder (ex-Warhorse), guitarist Chris Drzal, bassist Maureen Murphy and drummer Chuck Ferreira haven’t had time to compose the material and sculpt their aesthetic into what they want it to be, and as songs like opener “No Roam” and “Afraid of the Dark” and the 11-minute “Death March” demonstrate, they’ve clearly gotten there. Where Blacken the Sky meets its truest success is in melding moody ambience and oppressively heavy riffing — the way the band veers into extremity with Van Guilder‘s searing screams on “Bloodletting” or the loosely doomedelic initial two minutes of “Death March,” before the actual march begins and provides Second Grave‘s debut with a worthy crescendo.

No doubt Blacken the Sky will be the introduction for many listeners to Second Grave, but because it’s so put together it’s almost difficult to think of it as the band’s debut. Recorded by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak over the course of just four days — an immediately impressive feat given the amount and depth of the material — the sound is full but not at all unnatural, and some late variety in the interlude “Processional of Lies” and the quiet, layered harmonies of the closing title-track reinforce the brooding sentiment while also building outward from it and expanding the overall context from what the earlier onslaught of “No Roam,” “17 Days” and “Below the Seas” established at the start.

second grave (Photo by Samantha Fraulein-Thursday)

Whether or not Second Grave are planning a vinyl release, I don’t know — they’d either have to shorten the record or go 2LP, which seems prohibitively expensive; a limited run of 100 CDs is being pressed — but there is a notable change of intent signaled with “Bloodletting” at the album’s midpoint, following the melodically rich “Afraid of the Dark” and chugging “Below the Seas” with some mindful scorch and viciously dark energy, and the progression only continues to grow from there. That shift is welcome after the initial trio, which seem to put up a wall of forceful doom and dare listeners to scale it in order to reach the rest of what Second Grave have to offer. Atop the steady roll of Ferreira‘s drums and Murphy‘s bass, Drzal and Van Guider offer fluid riffs and intricate solos, and Van Guilder is steadfast in her vocal command, but the intent is clearly that those three songs should start Blacken the Sky with plodding miseries, and they do. One might say they’re living up to the title in setting the tone.

From their first EP and through the 18-minute two-songer that followed, Second Grave have always shown an affinity for form and structure, and Blacken the Sky does likewise, using the screams in “Bloodletting” and “Death March” to send a clear signal of apex in much the same way that instrumentals introduced each half of their self-titled. The central difference here is the context in which that symmetry arrives. If “Bloodletting” is the peak of the album’s first half — it’s the centerpiece in the tracklisting — and “Death March” the peak of the second — it arrives with two cuts still to go — then those two peaks would seem to serve remarkably different purposes overall. Of course, “Death March” is paying off the album as a whole, but one might say the same thing of “Blacken the Sky” itself, though the means there takes a significant shift.

I wouldn’t call the ending a departure necessarily, since it keeps to Second Grave‘s structural tenets pretty firmly, but in its sheer sound it offers something different from even the droning interlude “Into Oblivion” before it, and while doubtless some will compare it to the subdued side of Windhand — because, you know, ladies — the truth is that Second Grave are coming from someplace else entirely in terms of influence. It’s especially telling that after so much tumult and rage, they would finish quietly, underscoring the patience that’s been present in the songs all along beneath that tempestuousness. One doubts they built the album structure with the intent of giving a glimpse at their progression under way, but after three years, it doesn’t seem impossible to think they have some plan in motion for their future development. Certainly the consciousness at root in these tracks is the work of a band aware of who and what they want to be. As a debut, there’s nothing more one could ask of Blacken the Sky, but by no means is that the sum total of what is delivered.

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One Response to “Second Grave, Blacken the Sky: March into Oblivion (Plus Track Premiere)”

  1. […] Thank you to JJ at the Obelisk for the review and track preview of our upcoming new album—officially releasing tomorrow! Doom on! Read More >> […]

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