Anonymity has been one of extreme music’s time-honored, though shopworn, traditions since even before the first wave of black metal. It has endured through a succession of major and far-lesser-known acts spanning continents and decades, in part, because anonymity taps that fearful part of the imagination in which these walls of haunting sound flourish. Furthermore, this tactic subtly returns to the music snob in all of us, by letting the music speak for itself. However, so common is anonymity that it has become an officious self-parody in instances like Ghost, where estranged bandmates battle it out in court over money, intellectual property and identity.
The Australian group Grave Upheaval seemingly pursues obscurity intentionally. About five years ago, the band released an album titled simply Untitled. It conveys no lineup information and its tracks are titled in a fashion that is as bland as one can get, e.g. Roman numeral titles. Now, roughly five years after Untitled, Grave Upheaval is back.
With what, you ask? Untitled, of course. Not Untitled II. Just Untitled. Not a good sign, perhaps.
What’s more, Grave Upheaval’s harrowing wood chipper of drums are surely going to remind you of several performers, most notably The Body, in their execution. Yet its atmospheric metal/noise soundscapes are entrancing enough to demand your attention. The band is most subversive on a second listen. On the licentious opener “II-I,” trappings of noise scratch gently against a grindcore surface like a wire pad on a blood stained wall. Dyspeptic vocals are nearly indecipherable yet familiar. As “II-II” stretches across your mind, you can hear the consanguinity between Grave Upheaval’s sound and the classic black metal seeing a revival right now and the hardcore that – not to be cliché but – never dies. These tendrils insinuate themselves throughout Untitled to brooding and sometimes violent outcomes.
As the album settles in with “II-IV,” the hypnagogic state of it all is both a blessing and a curse. There are a few traumas ahead, like the brisk pace to open “II-V,” but all things eventually settle into a grave meditation the more critical ear might consider a grisly busker at the River Styx. It has a note, and it’s really a dexterous, swaggering one, but once you get beyond that note, you have to focus on the second listen for creative turns. Bear in mind the original Untitled released in 2013 contained a very similar aural approach. Thin differentiation could be regarded as fidelity or stasis. Where you regard that depends on how you hear the songs as a work in whole.
Fortunately, Grave Upheaval avoids getting too predictable by taking many triggering departures. The nine-minute “”II-V” barrels at you with both industrial lean and unfathomable dirges. “II-VII” is among those selections where Grave Upheaval’s attention to detail – those lo-fi drum elements, cresting guitars – swim at you not unlike like Below the Sun’s 2017 Alien World, an interpretation of Stanislaw Lem’s science-fiction novel about a sentient ocean. The recording could benefit with tighter tracks, though fans of drone, funeral doom and experimental noise are undoubtedly going to relish many segues.
As Untitled ends with the ruthless strains of “II-VIII,” you walk away with regard for the promise in Grave Upheaval. The band’s gifts are evident. Whether they are known or unknown may not mean a lot. The music does shine darkly.