Gruesome – Twisted Prayers Album Review

Twisted Prayers is an energetic and lifelike take on Death’s popular album Spiritual Healing. While Gruesome’s record aims to be a tribute to this specific style, they manage to output new content which is relevant within the modern world, all while remaining true to their heavy inspiration.

Gruesome was a project that came out of the popular Death to All tours that were done in order to pay tribute to Death, legendary death metal pioneers, and specifically Chuck Schruldiner who passed away in 2001. Chuck is probably one of the most famous metal musicians of all time due to his crucial involvement within the genre. He essentially created death metal and helped to cultivate the subgenre into the monolith that it is today.
Gruesome resulted from the success of the aforementioned tribute tours which involved live shows of Death covers. The members of the tour decided that they would actually go off and write new music that is heavily inspired by Chuck and his band. In 2015, they released their debut LP Savage Land, which is a release meant to worship Leprosy, Death’s second album. The boys are back at it now with their sophomore LP, Twisted Prayers, which follows the very unique style of Death’s third album, Spiritual Healing.
Right off the bat, the most commonly cited flaw regarding this record, or even behind Gruesome’s general existence, lies behind their blatant tribute style. While their population is fairly small, there is a section of metalheads that believe that the group is unrightfully profiting by simply copying Death’s albums and releasing them under a different name. Prior to reviewing the record, I will rebuke this claim as I believe it is a pressing issue.
Firstly, the band widely publicizes their goal to praise their predecessor. Actually, they serve as an excellent homage because they involve many people who had a hand in the production of earlier Death albums. James Murphy, who played guitars in Death from 1989-1990 and was also a member of other prominent metal acts Obituary and Testament, plays two guest solos on Twisted Prayers. Ed Repka, popularly known within the genre for creating the cover art for Death’s first three albums, was commissioned to create the album cover for this record. The band blatantly reveals their intentions with this release, they do not try to hide the fact that they are a tribute act.
Secondly, I personally believe that enough time has passed since Death’s works were released, and they have also achieved legendary status since then, so it is the right time for a tribute band to arise. Say Gruesome were to form five years following Chuck’s passing, that would obviously be inappropriate and pointless, as the group’s music was still fresh. However, Spiritual Healing, the album that Twisted Prayers is heavily inspired by, came out 28 years ago. That’s a very respectable timeframe which allows for Death’s music to be etched into the innerworkings of the genre and subsequently be widely appreciated by all; older metalheads will be eager to hear new “Death” material and younger fans who consistently follow new releases will be educated about metal’s greatest and most influential band.
I believe that these two factors offer Gruesome a respectable passage through the gates of hell. Now, on to the review.
Right off the bat, Gruesome adopts so many of Spiritual Healing’s stylistic qualities with this record. The main theme, alike the original release, pertains to the denouncement of the misuses of religion and general power. The album covers are very similar thematically, as Spiritual Healing offered us a scared-looking man in a wheelchair surrounded by crazed-preachers while Twisted Prayers’ art depicts an ill-minded-looking pastor offering a sermon to his zombie followers. Musically, the slower, more brooding rhythm guitar sections are commonly used as building blocks for the record in accordance with the famously cryptic-sounding solos first featured on Spiritual Healing. Vocalist Matt Harvey’s singing style is also an excellent homage to Chuck’s, as they both have that praised ability to offer strong death metal style vocals that can still be understood by the listener. The long and echoed screams featured on Spiritual Healing are also scattered throughout Gruesome’s newest release which are executed in a very tasteful fashion. Let’s dive into an overview of some of the record’s best tracks below.
“Inhumane”, the first track on the record, is an excellent representation of what will follow. As I mentioned above, Twisted Prayers is an excellent tribute to Spiritual Healing albeit with a more modern focus lyrically. “Inhumane” is a thorough critique of the American justice system and how modern legal structures unlawfully attempt to define widespread crime within neatly-cut borders. The track highlights a “crime you cannot understand” and the consequential fate of lethal injection for the guilty. The lyrical themes present highlight the idea that many perceived crimes are inherently subjective to the relative situation and cannot simply be punishable by a broad law, such as a universal death penalty for murder.
Musically, the track is very diverse. The song features a blaring opening intro that immediately gets the listener set in for the music. As expected, the vocal patterns and underlying instrumentation are styled to reminisce the inspiration discussed above. Chuck’s signature screams on Spiritual Healing are fairly high-pitched compared to those on other Death works, and they are very echoed and stretched-out. Gruesome’s Matt Harvey does an excellent job of recreating these screams on the record, and the first can be heard during the middle of this track. The solo section also immediately brings the listener back lead guitar work of Death’s James Murphy, who played on Spiritual Healing.
Ultimately, the track is a great representation of Gruesome’s ability to properly deliver a representational homage in the form of music.
Waste of Life
Immediately, “Waste of Life” harkens back to Spiritual Healing’s “Within the Mind”, as they both open with cryptic and travelling lead guitar solos with are followed by a slow and crushing main riff that remains present throughout the rest of the track. The title of the tune is presumably a reference to Death’s track “Low Life”, whereby the first line is “Those who are a waste of life”.
“Waste of Life” continues with the lyrical theme regarding issues within modern day society. On this track, Gruesome chooses to highlight problems associated with outright governmental power and the corruption and abuse that comes with it.
This was the first single released for the record and it is my favourite track on the release. The main riff is absolutely crushing and manages to drive the song forward every time it is included. There is not much else to say about this song; another fateful solo and an overall great homage to the greats.
Crusade of Brutality
The song’s title is a direct reference to a line written on the t-shirts sold on Death’s Spiritual Healing tour in 1990. I absolutely love this sneaky reference as it shows that the band very knowledgeable about their homage and they’re not simply trying to copy other’s work for monetary gain. They’re fans obsessed with music just like us.
Another fun fact regarding this release is that Spiritual Healing and Twisted Prayers both include 8 tracks which total 43 minutes.
“Crusade of Brutality” is another strong part of the record and features the first guest solo from James Murphy (the second being on the next song, “At Death’s Door”). This is another favourite of mine because of the scream that flows out of the line “In the name of Christianity”. Following this lyrical segment, the vocalist transitions the “y” at the end of “Christianity” into an all-out scream that erupts exponentially for a few seconds. This moment really exemplifies the song’s theme which is to highlight the idea that religious entities offer the deranged an excuse to spread hate in the name of goodwill. The distorted vision of religion mirrors the vocalist’s play with the word which I think is very clever.
The only issue I have with the record is not regarding the music, but rather the divide it creates for Death fans. I myself have only been listening to Death’s music for just under a year, so I am still thoroughly enjoying their output as it is still fresh for me, personally. Naturally, upon listening to Twisted Prayers, my initial feeling is an immediate desire to go listen to Death’s original work, because I am not yet done with it. Listening to Twisted Prayers just makes me want to go back and listen to Spiritual Healing. With that being said, older metalheads who have had the time to thoroughly consume Death’s music will have exhausted the content and will be subsequently hungry for more. I believe that this demographic is who this record is aimed for and will be most enjoyed by.
I am however extremely excited to see Gruesome play live, as I obviously did not get the chance to see Death in concert. When the day comes, that will be quite the experience.
Overall, Twisted Prayers is a very professional and properly-executed tribute to Death’s Spiritual Healing album. The record’s artwork, vocal sections, and instrumental style all harken back to feel of the original record. Fans of Death and old-school death metal in general will highly appreciate this release.
Verdict: 9.4/10

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