Graveyard – Innocence & Decadence (Nuclear Blast)

Graveyard - Innocence & Decadence (Nuclear Blast, 2015)Graveyard have been one of my favorite bands for the past seven years because they haven’t let me down yet. I haven’t heard a single bad track, or been let down by their live performances. They may not be the perfect band for everyone, as some feel their sound is too rooted in the past. To that I say, what sound isn’t from the past? Every recording is a document of the past, whether the sounds were first heard 5 years ago or 40. Really what people are criticizing is that their particular sound is not currently in fashion. There’s a ton of hip-hop, R&B and pop in the charts right now rooted in styles that are already 30 years old. And I challenge anyone to find a band from the 70s that could actually be confused with Graveyard. Others have critiqued that the band can be emotionally unconvincing. That’s fair enough. Not everyone can relate to being choked by a demon in their sleep. I can, but not everyone.

This album seems to be a response to that, as several tracks strips things down to a raw, emotional core that is thoroughly convincing, particularly on the slower numbers “Exit 97,” the stax soul adultery ballad “Too Much Is Not Enough” and the closing “Stay For A Song,” which symbolically strips away the instrumentation along with the lyrical adornments of mythical beasts until it’s nearly acapella, just Joakim Nilsson’s voice, a little guitar and his pain. It manages to sound both crushingly, vulnerably sad and badass, because basically Graveyard are at peak strength and can nail anything they attempt, along the lines of, say, Led Zeppelin when they were untouchable. And like Led Zep, blues is one element in their music, but they are so much more than a blues rock band. Another comparison that comes to mind is Free, not in sound, but their subtle mastery of slow-burning rockers, such as on “Far Too Close,” featuring vocals from guitarist Jonathan Ramm.

There are a couple other departures on this album. First single “The Apple And The Tree” chases a smooth, chugging groove along the lines of “Sultans Of Swing,” that manages to be different but still recognizable as Graveyard, moody and autumnal. It’s great timing to be released on the week of the Autumn Equinox.  Truls Mörck* also takes a turn on lead vocal on “A Hole In The Wall” for the first time since their debut. There’s also some Hammond organ on the album, contributed by one of the producers, Johan Lindström (Tonbruket).  They recorded it at Atlantis Studios in Stockholm, Sweden with Janne Hansson (ABBA, Opeth). Together, Janne and Johan helped them strike a perfect balance between the polish of their last album, and the grit of their earlier work.

On their fourth album, it seems every band member is experiencing artistic growth. It’s hard to say whether Innocence & Decadence is their best. Fans are most likely divided between the immediacy and heaviness of their self-titled 2008 debut when they initially had more in common with big brother doom psych band Witchcraft, the striking leap in songwriting on Hisingen Blues (2011), their more sleekly polished rock of Lights Out (2012), and this one, which successfully reiterates their strengths on the fast rockers and mid-tempo rollers, and experiments with the rest. The fact that it’s in the running solidifies Graveyard’s stature of one of the best, most consistent hard rock bands in the world today, and deserve to be recognized as such.

*More on Truls Mörck. After playing guitar on the first album, he left the band, and is back helping out on bass on the new album, along with contributing vocals to “A Hole In The Wall.” You can hear more of him on his solo debut, Truls Mörck, which came out in April on Mourningwood Recordings and has a more laidback, psych-folk feel.

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