Album Title: Fear
Open Grave shares three members with Helcaraxe, and I was reminded of their sound throughout -- the varied vocals and clever riffing will be familiar to anyone who has followed the band -- but the songwriting and atmosphere on this record feel unique to Open Grave. The use of keys is especially great: they vary from bombastic, romantic Emperor-style lines to epic, floating passages closer to mid-period Graveland. Clean piano is used sparingly, and adds even more depth. The guitar work is equally original, a dynamic mix of heavy riffing and tremolo-picked parts, and the drumming and bass work are satisfyingly complex. The production is relatively clear, with the guitars and drums up-front. Audible bass lines, floating synth, and snarled/screamed vocals round out the sound.
"Mourn" starts things off with a classic bit of black metal atmosphere -- "I am the necromancer!" -- and only gets better from there. The combination of stately keys and crunchy chords is one of my favorite moments on the record. "Hide" initially seems even slower, but the tempo change in the middle breaks things up, and is in turn broken by the quiet, insistent piano of "Betray". "Kill" is just plain huge, boasting a massive, headbanging main theme and the most aggressive vocals on the record. "Destroy" and "Torture" are more dynamic, packed with unpredictable changes and turn-arounds; everything flows perfectly throughout. "Bury" is mid-paced and regretful, showcasing some of the most powerful vocals on the record, while "Hunt" combines riffing, synth, and clean piano in an ode to the kill. The slow burn of "Humiliate" is one of the best instrumentals I've heard in a while -- the vocals are used as another instrument here, adding layers of depth. "Rape" is short and surprisingly ethereal, a perfect coda for the album: the last section feels like a crushing combination of everything that's come before it.
"Fear" is a memorable slab of dark, riff-heavy black metal. It'll please anyone who likes their black metal catchy rather than drone-y -- think Master's Hammer or Mortuary Drape, and then check this out. Recommended.
Standout Tracks: "Mourn", "Kill", "Bury"