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Grave Babies - Crusher

A Dark Ride Through a Darker Place

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Grave Babies

Crusher

Hardly Art
On Crusher, the latest release by Seattle's Grave Babies, the first glance at the packaging immediately sets you up for what you're going to find inside. I mean the band is called Grave Babies, the album is called Crusher, and the cover has black metal graphics alongside a sort of shrine surrounding a bloody pig's head on a stake (and I've been further informed that, yes, both blood and head are the real deal).

A glance at the back confirms these impressions. With track titles like "Skulls," "Slaughter," "Blood On The Face," and "Death March" the brutality of all that is contained has spilled out to the outside of this release. It might be heavy and metallic, or it may be loaded with gothic melodrama, but either way, it's dark in a Spinal Tap-ish "none more black" sort of way, but minus the humor. You're set for a ride through a dark and haunted space.

What you're not set up for is how much you'll enjoy it.

While a three-piece when they perform, Grave Babies is the brainchild of founder and frontman Danny Wahlfeldt, who composes and records it all himself. So most of the credit for Crusher rests in his hands, entangled in intricate loops, an wrapped in layers of fuzz from which the occasional edge projects.

And when Crusher opens with "I," a 52-second blast of guttural noise, you're prepared for brutality, but what happens next is an audio surprise, and an exquisite one. You see, beneath the exterior posturing of the Grave Babies lie serious pop sensibilities.

Their sound is evocative of bands like the Sisters of Mercy (in their prime, not in their more recent money grabbing days), their more recent clones Rosetta Stone, and even much of the roster that has, over the years, put out music on Cleopatra Records. It especially reminded me of God's Girlfriend, an Australian band that I hadn't thought of in years whose tape I had bought out of an ad in some zine like Industrial Nations or the like, and I was promptly forced to fond them as well for another listen.

And like those bands, at times Crusher is vaguely danceable, but it's a smoky goth club sort of danceability, like the surreal "Pain Cycle," which drones along atop a manufactured drum beat, or "No Fear," which layers darkness over an '80s-inspired club sound that simultaneously lifts you up and drops you.

Tracks like "Blood On the Face" and "Hate Repeats" owes as much to an industrial upbringing as a gothic influence, and the beats punch a pace while the vocals somehow drift dreamily alongside at an identical space.

"Death March" offers a driving melody that is equal parts Bauhaus and Sisters of Mercy, and the album wraps up with the droning "Prostitution," which musically sounds a bit like Jane's Addiction's "Summertime Rolls" got wrapped in a black velvet blanket before giving a beat down by a bunch of goth kids in a parking lot so they could take it home and have their way with it.

At times it suffers from a production value that sounds intentionally lo-fi, giving it a sound like you're actually hearing it in a club that may not have the best acoustics. But this is only occasionally a detriment, for the most part it helps to give the whole record a sort of scuzzy aura.

The mind of Danny Wahlfeldt is either a dark place or a smirking surreal one, where he revels in an inside joke that only he gets. Either way Crusher has created a space where his twisted musical visions run wild. Fortunately for many (especially those of us who will profess to an affinity to old goth and death rock), it's a place where people who are also willing to relax in the dark can find enjoyment in a booming brutality that has distorted the concept of the pop song without destroying it entirely.

Free MP3: Grave Babies - "Over And Under Ground"

Release Date - February 26, 2013

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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