The fanbase of Sweden’s Graveyard — who, going into their fourth album and third for Nuclear Blast, Innocence and Decadence, can rightly be considered among the most influential heavy rock acts of their generation in Europe — seems to be becoming more divided over time between those who wish the four-piece would get down exclusively to the raw shuffle that made their 2007 self-titled the landmark it has become, and those more given to appreciate the melancholy sensibility that has emerged to diversify their approach over the course of the two subsequent full-lengths, 2011’s Hisingen Blues (review here) and 2012’s Lights Out (review here) — the very title of which seemed to hint at the moodiness within.
For what it’s worth, if it’s one or the other, I’m in the latter camp. The progression undertaken by Graveyard — guitarist/vocalist Joakim Nilsson, guitarist Jonathan Ramm, rejoined bassist Truls Mörck and drummer Axel Sjöberg — toward a more soulful sound has been the very thing distinguishing them from the legion of acts following in their retro-styled wake, and the 43-minute/11-track Innocence and Decadence makes a lasting impression in its subdued moments, but true to the two-pronged aspect hinted at in the name of the record, that’s not the entire story, and songs like opener “Magnetic Shunk,” “Never Theirs to Sell” — a spiritual successor to “The Suits, the Law and the Uniforms,” from the last album — “From a Hole in the Wall” and “Hard-Headed” provide some of the most chaotic churn Graveyard have enacted to-date. Don’t believe me? “From a Hole in the Wall” has blastbeats. Stick that in your ’70s boogie.
One of Innocence and Decadence‘s greatest strengths is that even as it plays to one side or the other, delving into wistful longing on “Exit 97,” proffering soul-rock mastery on “Too Much is Not Enough,” complete with backup singers delivering the hook lines “Can’t keep/A promise never made,” and rounding out with the minimalist “Stay for a Song” long after the “Did all the rest now I gotta do you” testosterone chicanery of “Magnetic Shunk” has subsided, it also finds middle ground between them. A mid-paced cut like “The Apple and the Tree,” the drum-fueled semi-psych spaciousness of “Can’t Walk Out,” the ultra-swinging “Cause and Defect” or the languid Ramm-led sing-along of the penultimate “Far too Close” provide moments of fluid transition en route to one extreme or the other. Now, I don’t think Graveyard sat down with a chart and said, “Okay, we’re going to start fast, then slow down, then speed up, so let’s write this and this and this,” but it’s emblematic of a varied (yet of consistent quality) approach to songwriting, their maturity as a band now approaching their 10th year, and their skill for placing each song on the album to maximize the overarching flow.
The end result is that Graveyard don’t simply jump from one end to the other — except where it suits them, as in the sharp cut from “Exit 97” to “Never Theirs to Sell” — but rely on organic fluidity every bit as integral to their sound as recording live or the the analog feel that remains strong in their material. Split into vinyl sides between “Too Much is Not Enough” and “From a Hole in the Wall” — which features a shift in vocal approach that brings Mörck to the lead-singer role — Innocence and Decadence emerges as a logical step forward from where Graveyard were three years ago on Lights Out and finds them maintaining the level of output that has let their reach expand so far. They come across committed less to the superficial trappings of a retro aesthetic than to their own songcraft, and that allows them to carry over these tracks in their given aesthetic as it would even had they undergone a stylistic shift as drastic as that of fellow Örebro natives and labelmates Witchcraft, whose most recent offering was a marked departure toward modern production.
Performance-wise, Sjöberg puts on a show across these cuts that deserves to enter his name into the conversation for best active drummers in heavy rock. He does more with a closing hi-hat and ride cymbal on “Exit 97” than most drummers can pull off with an entire kit, and is just as at home ghost-noting Ramm‘s stellar lead work on “Hard-Headed” as he is stick-clicking and slow-jazz rolling on “Far too Close,” tossing off frenetic snare fills in the meantime that are pure class and always seem to find their way back into the pocket right on time. Similarly, Nilsson‘s voice proves more able than ever to carry an entire track, as it does most notably on the quiet, sweet “Stay for a Song,” which finishes Innocence and Decadence not with riotous shuffle, but with keys so soft they’re barely there. His post-Plant high-register howl is in effect for the end of “The Apple and the Tree” and “Never Theirs to Sell,” but true to the spirit of the album as a whole, he’s not limited at all to one or the other, and as noted, there’s exploration of pushing his limits even further on “From a Hole in the Wall,” as well as “Can’t Walk Out” and “Cause and Defect,” that only emphasizes the level of frontman he’s become.
That’s not to take away from what Ramm brings to the guitar or what Mörck (who played guitar on the self-titled prior to parting ways with the band and then rejoining on bass) adds on bass — a song like “Cause and Defect” would be severely lacking swagger without him — just that particularly on initial listens, the vocals and drums offer several striking accomplishments. For the band as a whole, Innocence and Decadence does likewise, be it the perfectly patient “Too Much is Not Enough” or the catchy sway of “Far too Close” pushing toward the album’s conclusion, and it leaves little mystery as to why Graveyard have become the band they have, working their way toward an institution and toward statesmanship, but still ready to tear it up when the occasion arises, as it does at several well-timed junctures here.