Their history reads like a bad fantasy novel: Out of the ashes of the Beastmilk arise the Grave Pleasures. It’s a 3rd level wizard spell in Dungeons & Dragons, but it’s also the reality as the former Beastmilk release their second album as Grave Pleasures. The name may change but the sound remains the same: hook-laden hard rock heavily dosed with goth that slithers and worms its way into your brain. That Motherblood does so better than any of their previous releases in either incarnation is no surprise when you dig deeper.
Rising out of Finland as Beastmilk in 2010, their demo White Stains on Black Tape takes the darkness of The Sisters of Mercy and mixes it with a blackened version of Interpol – a decayed post punk classic that garnered a lot of attention. One listen to the dust-shrouded “The Wind Blows Through Their Skulls” shows why. EP Use Your Deluge cleaned up the sound but doubled down on the indie goth sound, culminating in 2013’s Climax. Featuring a Kurt Ballou production, the sound is beefed up (I know, shocking) but the momentum couldn’t hold, in-fighting tearing the band apart and leaving vocalist Mat McNerney and bassist Valtteri Arino to put together Grave Pleasures with a revolving lineup of musicians, including Juho Vanhanen from Oranssi Pazuzu on guitar.
It wasn’t too long before Dreamcrash arrived, featuring a heavier sound but still focusing on the themes of alienation, apocalypse and the darkness of human nature. Songs like “Crying Wolves” injected a sense of motion sickness with its sliding open string riffs, while “Crooked Vein” hinted at the doom that was always hiding underneath the surface of the band. This sense of subtle experimentation would be accentuated further as Vanhanen (I only just now realized how much I wanted to write “Van Halen” there, my own subconscious testament to how great a player Vanhanen is) took over a large portion of the writing for Motherblood.
The Apple Music description for Motherblood uses the term “romance rock” and damn if that’s not fitting as soon as opening track “Infatuation Overkill” starts. Everything drives forward, bass and drums locked as Vanhanen’s guitars ring out. Everything is smothered in a rich reverb – you feel like you’re moving through a thick fog as stabs of sound hit you from all corners. The first three tracks waste no time in laying out the mission statement for the album: Grave Pleasures wants you to get up and dance like the world is ending. If that intent wasn’t clear by the time the ridiculously infectious “Be My Hiroshima” arrives this might not be the album for you.
To be fair, there is a danger of too much consistency to the songs. I would have liked to see even more variance in mood and tone – “Atomic Christ” has narration from Current 93’s David Tibet, it along with darker, more inflective tracks like “Joy After Death” provide some relief from the hip-shaking, veil-tossing stomp tracks that make up the majority of the record. But it’s a small quibble when the music is this alive and filling a niche few current bands (Ghost comes to mind) are looking to mine.
It may be a personal preference, but I hit a saturation point of blasts and noise and chaos. It’s all wonderful and bleak and dissonant, but I find myself needing an anchor of melody – dark or otherwise – to keep me tethered to reality sometimes. Grave Pleasures’ brand of post-punk/romance rock/whatever you want to call it feeds to my goth inflected youth and knows how to execute a killer hook when you need it.
All that and you can dance to it. What’s not to love about Motherblood?