Grave – Necropsy: The Complete Demo Recordings 1986-1991


Back around 1991 or so, Grave Into the Grave lived in every Hessian room across the land. It combined an intense rhythmic attack with a type of accessibility that did not on the surface resemble the pop music — generally downtempo bittersweet wailing indie-rock — of the age. Then the band seemed to drop out of reality.

Listening to Necropsy: The Complete Demo Recordings 1986-1991 has clarified for me exactly what I like and detest about this band. Unlike most bands of that era, Grave understood the concept of hook, in this case a rhythm that is fascinating enough to be instantly memorable. On the downside, the hook swims in what are ultimately predictable song structures borrowed from the lower echelons of 1980s speed metal. These demos show Grave developing its style from an early Possessed/Kreator hybrid into full-fledged death metal, yet the band never really breaks into what made death metal powerful. These songs cycle through verse-chorus with exceptions made to fit in some transitional riffs, but never construct themselves around an idea expressed in both riff and song. As a result, they come across as random outside of the one moment of clarity for the hook, at which point the brain goes to sleep waiting for the random power chord slamming to end and the hook to come around again.

The good parts of Grave should not be understated. At a time when most bands were trying to make themselves presentable to the average music listener by reining in their extreme tendencies, Grave leaped howling into the abyss with rigid and abrupt riffs that slammed home with the intensity of the big American bands. Much like style-mates Seance and Hypocrisy, Grave took Swedish death metal away from the melodic riffs and restraint into full-on textural assault with primitive rhythm as its guide. And yet listening back over this, one might wish for a little bit more of Carnage and Entombed in with the Malevolent Creation style riffs. The song structures are too simple to give these riffs room to breathe, so they just cycle, which is to say raw repetition “one removed” by introduction of a contrary or at least different theme. If tied together with some melody, more structure, or even a greater sense of internal dialogue between the songs, the early work from Grave would have been legendary and far surpassed Entombed and others who made big names for themselves in Swedish metal.

These demos progress from the prescient in style works of the 1986-1988 period in which bands were still figuring out how to work with the fertile ferment of Bathory, Hellhammer, Possessed, Sepultura, Sodom and Slayer. The Grave tracks from this era sound like a second-rate speed metal band imitating Possessed as death vocals ring out around clumsier versions of riff patterns you might find on a Heathen or Dark Angel album. As time goes on, the riffs pick up more technique and the clumsiness becomes an aggressive slamming rhythm mated to an adroit sense of pick-up rhythm that conserves and intensifies the energy of each riff. But, much as with Kreator, the riff is the hook and the “sweet spot” in the midst of relatively unrelated material, which means songs keep clunking along on the rhythm of the drums and vocals while the guitars do random stuff. It’s as if these bands never fully come together and are just too individualistic for their own good, Kreator especially. As the demos accelerate toward 1991, the technique streamlines into recognizable full death metal, but the song structures revert to the 1986 styles and despite increased proficiency remain just as clumsy in end result.

What emerges from these demos as a result is a crash-course in how to write great death metal riffs without writing great death metal. Grave faded before its time because it never knitted these power riffs into full songs, and went after the German model of a friendly rhythm with great hook in a song where everything else is essentially linear. This makes the listener fade in for the hook, then fade out, and end the listening session with no sense of continuity or overall impression of an event, emotion or attitude. In this, Grave — despite having mastered the science of death metal riffcraft — missed the boat on the innovation that death metal brought to the wider world of heavy music, and this explains why their work has not obtained the staying power assigned easily to bands with less-powerful riffing but more focus on integrative songwriting.

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10 thoughts on “Grave – Necropsy: The Complete Demo Recordings 1986-1991

  1. Concerned Citizen says:

    Basically sums up Grave. I never owned the first album, but I had the 2 after. You’ll Never See has a cool beginning then devolves into bouncy material which is the problem described here. Soulless sounds like a misdirected attempt to meld Entombed with Pantera. At least the Robocop sample was cool.

    1. Concerned Citizen says:

      Also, hooks and integrative songwriting…

      I’m pretty sure Pantera only got as popular as they are from jocks liking the one riff per track that’s distinguishable from the rest in a pop song format. Perhaps this is also how Death became so popular (lackluster songwriting, catchy riff somewhere in there). I’d say there is correlation, considering the popularity of both bands deceased guitar players among the ignorant. Consider also that these bands are perhaps the only metal listened to among their fans.

      Consider also Roadrunner Records’ At Death’s Door compilations: should Fear Factory and Disincarnate really have any accolades? One can write a groove and the other can come up with a solo but everything else they do beyond that is unremarkable. Background listening…

      1. Pantera and Death both mastered the pop song format, using a hook and then a rhythm verse riff to keep interest, then some melody in the bridge and conclusion. They are much closer to normal rock music than metal in this regard. If you want an analogy, Pantera and Death are the hard-working students who never cared what the material meant, where the interesting metal comes from Incantation, Demilich and Slayer sitting in the back row cracking jokes and throwing paper airplanes.

        1. ODB says:

          I think you underestimate how much metal owes to the “pop song format”. Hooks are a big part of heavy metal, and that includes bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest that this site has praised over the years. Placing Death and Pantera in the same sentence is a false equivalency. Chuck Schuldiner, whatever we make of his ideological idiosyncrasies, knew the art of writing heavy metal around emotion. Pantera did not. There is nothing in Death’s music, in my humble opinion of course, that disgraces the legacy of this music. It enhances it and I would give anything to have a self righteous prick like Chuck back over what we have today.

          1. I think you underestimate much of what Pantera did. Technically, they were good songwriters, and their music has a very carefully constructed emotional component. It is brocore emotion, which is somewhere between wanting to rape a Camaro and cry over spilled cocaine, but it is emotion nonetheless. Say what you want about Tourist-Size Bag of Marijuana, but he could write a good melodic song within a very narrow framework.

            Further, I’m not sure you understand pop song format. Pop song format does not “equal” hooks; it is the use of verse-chorus with hook and bridge to be a complete song. Death did not drift fully into this until later albums, but he became very vested in it though he did not use it exclusively.

            1. ODB says:

              I don’t understand much from the first half of your post because it does nothing to address why Death’s music is bad in a heavy metal framework (not extreme metal, mind you).

              As for the second, why is a verse-chorus format with hook and bridge inherently bad of itself? I can list a hundred songs that follow the same and still carry the spirit we consider essential to heavy metal. I realize that traditional heavy metal has not been DMU’s focus over the years but can you honestly say something like is not metal in spite of its “rock-isms”?

              1. Robert says:

                “As for the second, why is a verse-chorus format with hook and bridge inherently bad of itself?”

                Because it’s been done a million times over by pop and rock musicians for decades, coming close to a century. That’s the beauty of classical and metal (extreme or some cases heavy metal), it really doesn’t follow a format but it’s own.

                Verse-chorus style song structure is to appease to the lowest common denominator. This is a no-no. Just imagine the retard jocks who like Korn and LostProphets having similar taste as you do. That’s what will happen if your favorite bands cater to the retards in order to sell records.

                1. Tralf says:

                  To play devil’s advocate, what do you think of Bolt Thrower? Dismember? Slayer? All have used pop structures, even on their greatest albums.

  2. Killian says:

    “If tied together with some melody, more structure, or even a greater sense of internal dialogue between the songs, the early work from Grave would have been legendary and far surpassed Entombed and others who made big names for themselves in Swedish metal.”

    I think this statement is very on-point, and sums up my thoughts on Grave based on what I’ve heard from them. I think Seance handled this style much better on “Fornever Laid to Rest”. It takes the explosive, percussive riffing style even further but varies the structures enough to keep things interesting. Just my thoughts, anyway.

  3. Mormegil says:

    Yeah, Nihilist and Dismember demos are far better.

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