For a band with such an explicit mission statement, Gruesome‘s music is a complex and frustrating beast to analyze. The quartet broke out last year with a debut album (Savage Land) and lineup that embodied the concept of an “on paper” scenario; one of those perfect storms of marketing that whets the palates of both labels and fans, but culminates into a project with a better concept than execution. This crew of seasoned death metal alumni can claim membership in Exhumed, Malevolent Creation and Possessed, using their experience to craft old school death metal in its rawest form. And though this may not be a novel concept given the past decade’s onslaught of OSDM revivalists, Gruesome differentiates themselves by forgoing focus on a specific period of the genre and paying direct, singular homage to Death. This in itself isn’t unique; referencing Death is intrisinc to any attempt at OSDM revival. But this concept of composing a new album as a marginally adjacent carbon copy – Death’s Leprosy and Gruesome’s Savage Land – presents a fascinating, twofold conundrum.
In terms of composition, Gruesome’s latest EP, Dimensions of Horror, is a painfully obvious extension of Savage Land. The EP’s six tracks continue the tradition of blatant Death-worship, both to a fault and free from fault. Because in a way, there’s nothing particularly offensive about Gruesome’s music; each of these six tracks presents “Death Lite” assaults with touches of Altars of Madness-era Morbid Angel, all of which sounds straight out of the genre’s formative years. Granted, none of these songs are particularly memorable or distinct, but it should satiate fans of Gruesome Land who don’t mind the band’s “tried-and-true” attitude.” But for death metal fans of a different mindset, there are several actual Death albums that could be spun instead, along with more distinct and rewarding OSDM revival from bands like Horrendous and Morbus Chron.
Yet, it’s worth asking if a critique of this nature is wholly effective. A common point touched upon by critics is whether or not a band’s music is unique, or if they come off as a copycat of an established sound. But when critics make these observations, they’re doing so based on perception of the music itself, not usually from any established influences list published by the band. Sure, artists frequently mention sonic peers and ancestors that drive their own creative process, but it’s unusual for someone to unequivocally state their affinity in the way that Gruesome has with Death. With this being the case, how can a reviewer fully criticize the band for sounding so similar to their primary, stated influence? Not only is this point obvious, it could arguably be more of a compliment than a critique. Gruesome’s music is an exact manifestation of their stated purpose, and while it may not compare to the source material, both Dimensions of Horror and Gruesome Land are by no means false advertising.
However, there is undeniably something missing in the equation; a lacking component that caused this “on paper” approach to fizzle while attempting to jump of the page. Ultimately, this missing piece boils down to nostalgia, or rather, the lack thereof. To draw from the Mad Men playbook, nostalgia is derived from an Ancient Greek work that splices together the sensations of an epic, heroic homecoming and profound sorrow. In essence, an element of the present provides a surge of fond remembrance and pained longing for the past; a simultaneous reminder and soothing of an eternal absence. The metal community’s love of nostalgia has been a key driver of OSDM arrival, with the modern ingenuity and progression of the genre allowing fresh faces to remind both new and old fans of the genre’s long-passed roots with a twist of reinvention.
But the present allows old school sounds to thrive; there’s a balance established with current bands playing music that’s simultaneously old and new. It lays an anchor that provides new urgency and a fresh perspective to a sound steeped in context and lore. As a current band playing music rooted entirely in the past, Gruesome’s primary issue is an imbalance in this formula. There’s no modern infusion to trigger this nostalgic experience, ultimately making for music that feels far too indebted to the past to make a case for its necessity in the modern day. So while Dimensions of Horror could have comfortably nestled within Eighties genre classics, this assertion is less of a compliment and more of a reason for apathy.
There’s certainly a market for Gruesome to operate within, especially considering the well-deserved legacy Death has garnered over the years. But the undeniable fact remains that Gruesome is openly channeling a beloved genre classic and doing little to justify their effort. Dimensions of Horror continues Gruesome Land‘s inoffensive, Death-obsessed OSDM revival that should satisfy fans with an affinity for this trend. But with a choice between a decent-at-best remake and the legendary source material, the decision should be effortless. Gruesome may be content with their coffin-sized comfort zone, but their insistence on stagnation provides neither true nostalgic enjoyment nor enough compositional intrigue to come off as more than a Death knock-off.
Gruesome’s Dimensions of Horror gets…