Graveworm – Killing Innocence – Album Review
Album Title: Killing Innocence
Label: AFM Records
Date of Release: 28 April 2023
I first discovered Graveworm via their 2003 album, ‘Engraved In Black’. I bought it blind and, apart from the odd song here and there, I listen to it very infrequently. In fact, after buying this record, their fourth full-length studio release, I felt very little inclination to explore their material much further. It wasn’t bad, but there wasn’t much within it to get me overly excited. In a saturated market, where black metal meets death, theirs wasn’t an output that sent shivers down my spine or gave me much that was particularly groundbreaking or original. Yes, they laced their compositions with Gothic excess which added atmosphere to their music, as well as a certain grandiosity, but still it let me relatively unmoved.
Fast forward twenty years, and the German quintet are still going. To date, they have released nine albums but ‘Killing Innocence’, their tenth, has taken the best part of eight years to see the light of day. For a band that had released nine albums in around eighteen years, this hiatus is noteworthy. It is also the reason that I decided to give Graveworm another go, given the hype that has surrounded this release in various quarters.
It’s worth commenting that the nucleus of the band has remained unchanged for over two decades, with the ever-present duo of guitarist and keyboardist Stefan Unterpertinger, and vocalist Stefan Fiori, joined again by guitarist Eric Righi, as has been the case since he joined back in 2001. Bassist Florian Reiner has been in position since 2011, meaning that the only new recruit during the hiatus is drummer Moe Harringer. With such a relatively stable line-up, it will come as no surprise to hear that the overall modus operandi of Graveworm is also largely unchanged.
And by that, I mean that the listener can expect to be confronted with a blackened death metal band that weaves Gothic opulence into their sound. Having been kept company by ‘Killing Innocence’ for a little while now, I find myself deriving quite a bit of enjoyment from it, even if Graveworm once again fail to blow me away with their sonic vision.
For all of their apparent bluff and bluster, it takes until the fifth track on the album before I am properly impressed. Up until that point, the music is good, but is missing something. Opener ‘Escorting The Soul’ begins in suitably evil, menacing fashion with an intro that drips with atmosphere. But when the song erupts into its black/death hybrid, it feels very much like I’ve heard it all before. I like the switch between deep guttural growls and higher-pitched shrieks, and the guys can certainly play. This is evidenced by some brutal drumming, and some nice guitar work. Plus, the orchestration does give the whole thing a certain gravitas that can’t be denied. But the melodies aren’t memorable enough for me to fully penetrate.
“We Are The Resistance” has a huge Amon Amarth feel about it, but doesn’t hit the heights of the Swedes’ output. Again, it’s perfectly decent, but a little unremarkable. Plus, the production, whilst powerful, occasionally robs the music of some of its clarity, sounding instead a little cluttered and indistinct. The fast riffs that open up ‘Wicked Mind’ are very good, but they are soon dispensed with, only to return buried deep within the mix at certain points.
So to song number five, ‘Dead Words’. It kicks off with the sound of the bass rumbling ominously, drums beating out a nice pattern, and then fast-picked riffs entering to lift the intensity before we’re launched into the song fully. Stomping riffs, the odd pinched harmonic, a brief tinkling piano interlude and then in comes the first properly engaging and memorable melody of the album. It’s excellent and proves that Graveworm haven’t fully lost their knack of writing melodies. Acoustic guitars play a part, too, and the ending sequence is truly thunderous, but it’s the elegant, all-encompassing feel of the melody that creates an anthemic feel to which I fully surrender. I rejoice, but also roll my eyes in frustration, wishing that I’d heard more of this in the previous four tracks.
Up next is ‘Where Agony Prevails’ and, whilst not as immediate as its predecessor, it continues with a higher level of quality overall. The musicianship is excellent, as blastbeats and fast-picked guitar riffs assault the senses for the first minute or more. And whilst the battery continues apace and with relentless aggression, it is blended with another good melody that’s initially created by the keys and orchestration. The song then slows to allow the guitars to take up the melody, before we’re plunged headlong back into the blackened death tumult. Importantly, though, the melody does remain and suddenly we have back-to-back tracks that really show what Graveworm can do.
From there, ‘A Nameless Grave’ and ‘End Of Time’ both show flashes of brilliance, too, although the tinkling keys within the former do pull it a little too close to mid-era Dimmu Borgir for comfort.
That really just leaves the closing song, ‘In Honour Of The Fallen’, which is a very fine ending to ‘Killing Innocence’, every bit as elegant, powerful, and memorable as ‘Dead Words’ and ‘Where Agony Prevails’. The melodies are suitably poignant, and the reintroduction of a sombre acoustic guitar works wonders, adding more atmosphere and melancholy to the song. Plus, I love the way that the song ends, bringing us to a slow, gentle conclusion.
Again, I find myself bemoaning the fact that not more of the material on this album could have been like this. Had we been treated to more of this quality, rather than just three tracks with others offering glimpses of excellence too, we might be looking at a contender for a spot in my year-end best-of list. As it is, in ‘Killing Innocence’, Graveworm have created a thoroughly decent album that offers enjoyment but won’t push them any higher in my own personal blackened death metal rankings. And that’s really annoying, given the quality that they obviously have at their disposal.
The Score of Much Metal: 71%