Grafvitnir exists at the limits of extremity and melody. If one were to plot a simple chart to describe metal, with “Melody” as the X axis, and “Extremity” as the Y, Grafvitnir would be the little dot in the top right corner, with full marks in each category. Yet Grafvitnir doesn’t balance their thirst for convulsing blast beats and throat-shredding vocals and lightning tremolo with their desire for sweet, sweet melodies so much as the two sides battle, warring opposites ripping and clawing and dancing, circling their way around one another, imprisoned in brutal stalemate for the duration of Keys to the Mysteries Beyond. The end result is something that sounds like Storm of the Light’s Bane-era Dissection on amphetamines — and if that sentence sounds appealing, you’d better get listening, bucko.
Keys to the Mysterious Beyond tips its hand hardly thirty seconds into the opener, “Nidhogg”, but Grafvitnir probably prefers it that way. After a nice gust of atmospheric wind effects to give the album a veneer of culture and atmosphere, a riff that you’re pretty sure was stolen from Dissection bursts out of the starting gate. It might sound like an exaggeration, but the Dissection influence on Keys to the Mysterious Beyond is undeniable. Nearly every song has a melody that captures that peculiarly Dissection style riff — those tremolo melodies that sound faster than they are, that run all over the fretboard, that sing sweeter than black metal seems capable. And under these redolent riffs courses the other side of Grafvitnir: the pummelling, wild beast aggression of the percussion, topped by the sandpaper rasp of the harsh vocals.
These elements elevate Keys to the Mysteries Beyond into music beyond mere Dissection worship. The percussion seems to hunt the guitar down like a pack of hungry wolves; the tremolo riffs want to slow down to their natural Storm of the Light’s Bane rhythm, but the drums constantly blast-beat away, nipping at the heels of the tremolo, forcing them to run faster and faster. Two instrumental tracks give the only brief spells to the frenzied chase playing out over the album’s compact 42 minutes. Like boxers recovering after a round, the calm interludes allow predator and prey to regain their energy before the chase begins anew.
For all this beautiful struggle between the melodic riffs and the brutality of the rhythm section, Grafvitnir could actually have benefitted from worshipping Dissection just a bit more. Keys to the Mysteries Beyond is excellent on a track-by-track basis, but as a whole, the album suffers from sameness. Other than the interludes, the tracks all fall in the same 4 – 5 minute “ultra-fast banger” range, and the tempo rarely varies, both within songs and between them. Most importantly, though, the sound never changes. The sonic palette in the first minute of the album is exactly the same as the rest of the album, and that can get fatiguing. Grafvitnir could have taken yet another page from their Swedish forebears’ book and varied their sound with different guitar tones, synths, or acoustic guitar. To put it simply: Grafvitnir wrote an album that worships Dissection while also transforming and updating the sound in new and interesting ways — but they forgot to write a “Thorns of Crimson Death”.
Keys to the Mysteries Beyond is available now via Carnal Records.