Review: Grave Pleasures – Dreamcrash

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Beastmilk is back with a new name, new members, and a new album, but does this reincarnation stand up against the group’s previous effort?

Grave Pleasures was born out of Beastmilk’s untimely split last year.  Beastmilk’s unexpected retirement came as a shock to fans, especially me: the band had just won me over with their excellent brand of gothic post-punk/death-rock when they made their statement.  But, the reaction quickly turned from sadness to skepticism as founding member and principle songwriter Mat “Kvohst” McNerney announced at the same time that the band would be continuing on with a different name and lineup.  This skepticism was slightly eased by the additions of Linnea Olsson (The Oath, Sonic Ritual) and Juho Vanhanen (Oranssi Pazuzu) on guitar duties.  While Olsson and Vanhanen both had great credentials and seemed to be more than capable players, this was bound to disrupt the core sound that I, along with a legion of fans, loved on 2013’s nearly flawless debut, Climax.  Beastmilk was changing, which was a cause for concern.

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And change it did.  While Dreamcrash possesses a number of recognizable Beastmilk qualities (wailing vocals, punk beats, blacker than black humor), this is, for all intents and purposes, a different beast altogether.  Particularly of note is an apparent restraint shown in the production style, regarding ambience and layering.  Dreamcrash feels stripped down and bare in comparison to Climax.  The dreamy reverb soundscapes are gone for the most part, replaced instead with a live-in-the-room soundstage feel.  Grave Pleasures is a band focused more on the presentation of its music as a rock band rather than as its previous incarnation: a reverb-drenched siren song of an impeding retro-futuristic apocalypse, courtesy of the excellent Kurt Ballou at GodCity Studios.  Sadly, the band did not return to GodCity for this album.  Perhaps this is the band learning and growing from their touring experience in the past couple years, wanting to give fans an accurate representation of them as a live group.  While that is admirable in principle, the suppression of such a characteristic aspect of their core sound does not translate as well to tape.  Moments when the guitars or vocals should be drifting in and out of our dreaming unconsciousness by way of reverb and space are instead bare and leave holes in what was once a dense wall of sound.  This is not to say that the production is bad; it is just different.  The production choices, resulting in the absence of the dense atmosphere that had been utilized to great effect before, make for a relatively bare bones listening experience.

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Fear not, my fellow post-punk enthusiasts: all is not doom and gloom for Dreamcrash (at least not in the reviewing sense).  While the production decision to abandon the apocalyptic soundscape vibe is a slight disappointment, the songwriting and performances on display are damn good and make up for the lack of atmosphere.  Once again, Mat “Kvohst” Mcnerney’s wounded vocals are on point, recalling moments from the debut as well as expanding his range to new heights.  He begs comparisons to Danzig and Ian Curtis in equal measure, but it is the subtle uniqueness in his excellent, yet vulnerable, performance that keeps me coming back for more.  His hurt wailing and mournful baritone presides over the album with grim authority, which makes the vocal hooks (of which there is plenty) haunting and extremely memorable.

The songwriting, while not as strong as on Climax, is a solid effort that shows off the band’s retained ability to write some killer post-punk/death-rock tunes that’ll either get your head nodding or your corpse groovin’.  Highlights include “New Hip Moon” and “Lipstick on Your Tombstone,” both of which feature incredibly catchy choruses that are permanently stuck in the dark corners of my consciousness.  It’s impossible not to find yourself singing along to Khovst’s fatalistic declarations of heartbreak and end-is-nigh prophesying.  “Futureshock” really embraces the “punk” in post-punk and definitely throws back to Samhain.  “Taste the Void” makes me want to get up and boogie down with the dead, while “No Survival’s” effected bass line and black humor seem to me to resemble Type O Negative in some small part (perhaps it’s wishful thinking).  There’s some good diversity here, whilst each track still maintains all of the elements that make a Grave Pleasures song distinct.  Despite my initial misgivings about the overall atmosphere, I have to admit that the album’s strong songwriting recaptured me and drew me back into its dark embrace.

This is music for a party at the house on haunted hill; this is music for grave-dancing; this is music for a Halloween break-up.  Despite Dreamcrash being the result of an unfortunate split and lineup change, I think it is absolutely a triumph in the face of that challenging situation; and that even though the newcomers make their presence known, the core Beastmilk-esque sound elements still present in the compositions are really what shine through here.  For the most part, it does not come close to the impact that Climax made — which is to be expected as that album is near sonic perfection.  No, Grave Pleasures may not necessarily be Beastmilk, and they may struggle in living up to their former reputation, but the new trajectory that Dreamcrash has put them on is definitely not a collision course with mediocrity, as some had unwisely tried to predict after their parting ways with Goatspeed.  In keeping with the trend established in my other reviews, Grave Pleasures’s Dreamcrash is destined for a high spot in my year’s end list.

Come on in.  It’s a dead man’s party and Grave Pleasures is playing on the stereo.

4/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

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