As we discovered on 2012’s Gothdamnit, you shouldn’t judge Seattle’s Grave Babies solely by their covers. Depending on your threshold for pig blood and black metal, that could be a good thing heading into their new disc, Crusher. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t expect some pummeling, guttural business (as the opener “I” suggests), but rather that there’s some varied depth behind it.
Songs that bury the mixer’s needles in the red have had a lengthy moment in the sun in indie rock circles, but it’s rarely used to this sort of gothic effect. Frontman Danny Wahlfeldt hides under fuzzy guitar noise and overdriven bass on tracks like “Over and Under Ground”. Up next, “Skulls” fits the “morbid pop” appellation given by the band, a moody baritone melody settling in the screeching muck.
But Wahlfeldt isn’t just dealing in gothic rock tropes, as evidenced later by the Nine Inch Nails-leaning “Pain Cycle”. The track sways in synth bass rumble and simple electronic percussion, eventually decomposing into another roman numeral’ed burst of noise. Later, the off-kilter percussion, thrumming energy, and repeatedly shouted title of “Blood on the Face” works in Jamie Stewart’s territory, a morbid poetry maniacally unfolding.
Though the imagery and song titles hit a single brutal note (I haven’t even gotten to “Slaughter”, “Count Cuts”, or “Hate Repeats”), there are moments on Crusher where you’ll gladly sing along about the inevitability of death. Whether acting the ranting wild man (“IV”) or the depressed New Waver (“No Fear”), Wahlfeldt draws you into his dark world with a knowing smile that says it’s not necessarily a bad place to be.
Essential Tracks: “Over and Under Ground”, “Pain Cycle”, and “Blood on the Face”