Grave Dust has recently released a first sampling of their sound. From the front cover to the last drum hit, Pale Hand oozes raw old-school-death-metal brutality. Furthermore, the group mixes up the well-established sound with tastefully-used synthesizers that both manage to break up the noise and make those heavy double-bass sections hit even harder.
When I think of the current state of North American metal, two particular scenes come to mind. Firstly, the greater Los Angeles area seems to contain a great deal of metal cults stirring up the region. Secondly, some of my favourite newer bands come from the Portland area, those being Torture Rack and Grave Dust; the latter being the subject of this article. All contenders within the two fiery metal hotbeds play this gritty, filthy style of death metal that harkens back to the good ol’ days of garage-born tunes. While the current old-school-death-metal revival is extremely indicative of the sound of those earlier times, each group seems to be taking their own angle to help freshen up the air. While Torture Rack cranks up the grime factor with their music, Grave Dust borrows even more from the 1980s with their creative use of synthesizers.
The flow of the article may be sacrificed within this drastic change of direction, but I’m going to focus on these synthesizers if you guys don’t mind. While the instrument has been used before, notably on Bathory’s infamous album Under the Sign of the Black Mark, metal has tended to consciously shift away from such a mainstream sound. While synthesizers owned the 1980s, even to the point that entire songs were crafted using solely the instrument, I guess the whole anti-mainstream attitude carried alongside the distortion and screaming wouldn’t allow for such a blasphemous approach.
However, Grave Dust uses the synthesizer in such a proficient and reserved manner which makes it the highlight of Pale Hand, in my opinion. While the short-lived intro track uses such predominately, we first see a first official glimpse of the robotic-like sounds on “Ritual Glow”, roughly two-thirds through the track. Following a steady section of guitars and drums, the listener is introduced to a refreshingly-clean “alien laser beam-esque” sound that jolts your senses a bit. Furthermore, the odd instrument is used again on “Rotting with Evil” to the effect of a traditional ‘80s sci-fi transition to the likes of something you’d hear while watching Stranger Things. As you can tell, they are only found on half of the tracks on this release, so don’t be afraid that the usage is anywhere close to being overdone. It is however to the point that such looks to be a staple within Grave Dust’s newly-established sound, which I enjoy thoroughly. The usage adds to the creepy factor of the music, serves as a friendly homage to the subgenre’s origins, and also manages to break up the potential monotony of pounding drums and general brutality.
Now on to the actual music. As mentioned above, Grave Dust’s sound leans heavily towards that buzzsaw-like, gritty, and unbalanced old-school-death-metal sound that we all know and love. The production is not too clean (which a lot of metal albums suffer from these days), nor is it too over-the-top. Pale Hand hits that sweet spot of being beautifully unbalanced in a way that just makes you want to keep listening.
Even the titles harken back to the beloved teenage years whereby your creative mind is infested with all things unnatural. “Purgatory Alone”, “Rotting with Evil”, and “The Chase” all ooze this simple, fun, and dark interest in all things taboo that titillates our curious minds.
Furthermore, as a demo should do, Pale Hand offers a wide variety of sounds. The five-track demo (six if you count the intro) culminates into a carefully-selected handful of flavours that will hopefully interest you as a listener, enough so that you become a fan and purchase their future releases. While tracks on full-lengths are praised for being different but still contributive to a universal sound, demos can feature songs that flow differently and take separate directions. The one thing Pale Hand does is that it both features tracks that offer a variety but still feel part of one release, and it gives the listener a wide spectrum of Grave Dust’s sonic soundscape. For example, there aren’t too many slow sections on this release, but the ending of “Purgatory Alone” stands really strong when it comes out of your speakers as you’re not accustomed to that type of pace.
I am quite thoroughly-pleased with this demo. To be honest, I thought this release was an LP on the shorter side at first because it all sounded so tight and well put together. I was surprised when I found out that Pale Hand is actually just a demo by a newer band. Even more props to Grave Dust then! Keep the Portland-based group on your radar as their future material should bang some heads if it matches the creativity and musicianship displayed on Pale Hand.