Grave Pleasures is the evolution and continuation of Beastmilk. Back in 2013, the project led by Mat “Kvohst” McNerney, released Climax, a record combining the post-punk nostalgia, the darkwave influence along with a pop-induced sensitivity. The record was filled with hits, stunning hooks and explosive tracks. Unfortunately Beastmilk could not continue in the same form, so lo and behold Grave Pleasures was born, and their debut album Dreamcrash was released.
Despite following the formula of Climax, there was something essential missing from Dreamcrash. Even though the album was by no account bad, it lacked the magic that Climax was able to bring to the front. Where Dreamcrash felt like the band was in between phases, its follow-up Motherblood comes to fulfil the promises this style had made. With McNerney and Juho Vanhanen (of Oranssi Pazuzu) combining to write the majority of the songs, Motherblood finds the band rejuvenated, oozing with a sense of new found purpose.
What is unique, and has always remained the case with Grave Pleasures and Beastmilk before them, is the band's ability to combine the heavy, sharp rocking riffs with this direct and open pop essence, a lineage descending from David Bowie to the new wave visionaries in the likes of Echo and The Bunnymen. The sound is further expanded with the dark presence of death rock and darkwave, with hints towards Sisters of Mercy echoing through Motherblood, as is the brilliant vocal delivery in “Joy Through Death.” The point of converge between all these influences is the construction of strong hooks, lead parts that are catchy and enticing, capable of infecting you with earworms from one moment to the next. The structure of “Be My Hiroshima” causes that to no end, as do the choruses in “Doomsday Rainbows.”
Grave Pleasures have always had a dark sense of romanticism, a strong lyrical sentiment, running through their DNA, and that is the key attribute in their music to this day. The bleak lyrics illustrate that fact, as do moments such as “Atomic Christ,” the opening of which with David Tibet of Current 93 reciting a poem further details their leaning towards the romanticized, while the darkwave leads also aid in that respect, with a haunting delivery. But their take on the twisted and the bleak is also unprecedentedly timely. McNerney has said that he finds it appealing to explore human darkness, the joys inherent in nightmares, and the concept of nihilism. In that effect Grave Pleasures appear not only to find a nightmare-like scenario unavoidable, but also choose to laugh at it as well. Most of the tracks in the record make a direct connection with the threat of nuclear war, in the likes of “Be My Hiroshima” or “Falling for an Atom Bomb” and “Atomic Christ.”
The fact that this is one of the catchiest records you will hear this year, as well one of the darkest when it comes to the concepts it explores is quite a contradiction and it speaks to the extent that Grave Pleasures approach these subjects. As McNerney sings in “Doomsday Rainbows,” we are all “laughing our ways to the gallows,” choosing to surf through an apocalypse to reach an ugly end. At an era where threats that appeared material only for Hollywood blockbusters are coming closer and closer to becoming reality, records such as Motherblood are essential for embracing one's nihilism. And it is fucking catchy as hell.
The Grave Pleasures story is one that began many moons ago in 2010; beginning life as Beastmilk and led by black metal legend Mat McNerney the band were soon on the radar of the black metal scene despite their sound sitting firmly in the post punk aspect of the musical world. Annihilation has no bounds and the outsider genre welcomed the Finnish band with open arms and with the release of a critically acclaimed demo and debut Climax in 2013, Beastmilk found themselves a home. Line up shifts, a disbanding and regrouping turned Beastmilk into Grave Pleasures in 2015, who in turn offered up debut Dreamcrash and a perhaps less interesting sound than promised.
For many, the album was a little disappointing but for those who gave the record the time it needed, it was an album that the band needed to make. The obvious hooks of Climax were missing from Dreamcrash and the melodies seemed a little more hidden away and work was needed to get under its skin – it wasn’t an immediate record but that’s perfectly OK, not everything needs to hit you in the face every single time. And for a band struggling to figure out who they were and whether it was right to continue after the fallout from Beastmilk, then Dreamcrash was the only record that they could make.
Here on Motherblood, Grave Pleasures have once again undergone some membership changes but not at all to the detriment of the music. Motherblood is sickeningly catchy throughout and the dark, post-punk vibes we’ve come to expect and be enthralled with are here aplenty. Opener “Infatuation Overkill” sets out that manifesto succinctly within the first thirty seconds. Frontman McNerney’s voice pulls you in to the darkness in slick, deep registers that echo with 80s charm. The chorus is a whirlwind of repetition and high flying vocals and that tactic is one that follows the songs throughout the album.
“Be My Hiroshima” is the strangest love song you’re likely to hear this year but that what all Grave Pleasures songs are, at the core. The unusual appreciation for the apocalypse seems increasingly normal in our own bizarre times – the songs seem especially pertinent on the week of its release than ever before. Being in awe of nuclear fallout seems all the more romantic at this moment in time, perhaps it’s easier to deal with the end that way, particularly if there’s a catchy as hell chorus to soundtrack it all.
Motherblood is certainly a soundtrack to the ultimate end and for Grave Pleasures the finality of it all is cause for a party. You can’t help but nod along and if you’re not shy you’ll be dancing on your own for the entire running time. It’s a clever trick to make death seem so exhilarating and it’s one that the band pulls off oh so well. Doom and gloom may be the order of the day but “Mind Intruder” and “Falling For An Atom Bomb” (even if the bomb in question is metaphorical) do enough to help you forget how bloody awful everything is with swirling hooks and jiving melodies.
Grave Pleasures may not have had the easiest of starts and while Dreamcrash could be seen as a blip on the radar, they’ve moved past it and instead created a sophomore record that cements the hype that has enclosed the band since the beginning. Motherblood is vibrant, urgent and delirious and Grave Pleasures will only continue to surf the apocalypse.
8.5 / 10
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