Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Long Hundred 015/100: Grotesque - In The Embrace of Evil which the Gothenberg sound got off to a profoundly grim start.

[This is part of a series of posts dedicated to 100 albums I feel lucky to have heard. The full list and a more detailed explanation of the series can be found here.]

Scoff if you must, but I didn't know Grotesque had connections to any other Swedish band the first time I heard them.

A high school friend lent me a compilation that came with the Swedish magazine Close Up, featuring bands from Dolores Records and its various sub-labels. Of particular interest to my teenage self were the last five songs, drawn from the label's death metal subsidiary Black Sun. Even now, the collection of bands blows my mind: The Crown (back when they were known as Crown of Thorns), Sacrilege, Ceremonial Oath (a short-lived band that included members of In Flames and Dark Tranquility), and Grotesque. These songs represented a perceived leap forward in heaviness from the Swedish death metal I was familiar with, and I made a note to track them all down.

I'm not sure when I discovered that Grotesque vocalist "Goatspell" was actually Tomas Lindberg from At The Gates, and "Necrolord" was Kristian Wåhlin, who created artwork for some of the most important releases in the Nineties; but even without its famous members, I would have loved Grotesque immediately. Tracks like "Ripped From The Cross" and "Submit To Death" stripped death metal down to its primal core, then gleefully slathered it with blasphemy and misanthropy. It was all a teenage hesher could want.

Funnily, though Grotesque are considered a seminal part of the Swedish death and black metal scenes, they don't sound remotely like either; rather, their music has more in common with continental death-thrashers Vader and Sinister. Tomas Lindberg has stated that Sepultura's early releases were crucial in shaping Grotesque, and it shows: Even as a teenager, I knew intuitively that Bestial Devastation and In The Embrace of Evil were cut from the same cloth, and molded by the same influences (Hellhammer and Kreator, above all else; for what its worth, the earliest review of Grotesque refers to them as "death grind metal"). Regardless, Grotesque's influence quickly spread and inspired heshers in their home town to create their own blasphemous racket - leading inevitably to the creation of "Gothenberg Sound" as we know it.

Due to how suspiciously crisp it sounds (especially in comparison to the first two At The Gates albums that it supposedly predates), I suspect that In The Embrace of Evil is a "demo compilation" in the same way that Slayer's Live Undead is a "concert recording". Original drummer Offensor has uploaded songs from the original The Black Gate Is Closed deno tape, painting a more accurate picture of what it meant to listen to Grotesque in 1989:

Honestly, re-recording these songs was for the best; there's a power and immediacy in the band's music that was lost in their earliest recordings, and probably couldn't have been captured by studio engineers of the time. Unvarnished but effective,  In The Embrace of Evil captures the truth of the band's music in a way the real demos never did.

After Grotesque, Wåhlin hung on to the "Necrolord" moniker as his illustration career blossomed. Though he's primarily known for the album covers he created over the years, his post-Grotesque project Liers In Wait is worth checking out - their sole release Spiritually Uncontrolled Art, largely forgotten, is a commendable successor to Grotesque's reckless bluster.

As for Grotesque, they're more popular now than at any time during their brief life: Throw a stone at the Hell's Headbangers, Nuclear War Now or Blood Harvest roster, and you'll be sure to hit a band who emulates Grotesque with a shameless reverence. Ironically, Grotesque - originators, innovators, trailblazers - have attracted a fan-base who want nothing more than what's already been done. Honestly, the band's popularity with a certain kind of denim-vested hesher made me question if I wanted to include them in The Long Hundred; but every time I hear In The Embrace of Evil, it takes me back to my dorm room. I'm grateful I got to experience it when I did, and for as long as I have.

Submit To Death:

Dan Swanö