Life is a series of cycles—exchanges between two parties that, in one way or another, reciprocate. Actions and energy exchanged between the animate and inanimate, parasite and host, friend and enemy—all contribute in minor or major fractions to the underlying dissonance that drives life forward. Entropy. The delta-S of our communal existence. The grandiose notion of life’s cyclic nature and oscillatory relationship with death is put on display in the epic debut effort by aptly named Michigan act, Gravebloom. I:Empath is a sprawling adventure through a soundscape defined, at its essence, by deathcore but also sees samplings from progressive metal, melodic death metal, metalcore and more. Clocking in at just about an hour on the dot, I:Empath is an unbelievably ambitious breakout effort from this Midwestern sextet, containing everything from eviscerating breakdowns to melancholic moments of hair-raising ethereality. The result? The band prove wrong the notion that young acts are incapable of creating enthralling full-length records, as I:Empath manages to land mostly hits with precious few missteps, making it a surprisingly fluid and immersive full length experience the likes of which is rare among debut efforts from the underground deathcore scene—let alone debut records that run a full 60 minutes.
Instrumentally, Gravebloom dwell somewhere in the chasm between the metalcore stylings of August Burns Red and the dismal deathcore cast forth by groovy downtempo titans Filth. The result is a dynamic release that contains nearly as much atmospheric bounce as it does outright brutality. Built atop the energetic percussion from Cody Beardsley, songs like “Hate by Design” and “The Narcissist” keep the listener’s head bobbing and feet tapping throughout their entirety. Likewise, “Torment,” “Traitor” and “Pain” all go for the throat, with Beardsley’s drumming running at either remarkable speed or dominating with ruthless, punchy breakdowns. “Traitor,” especially, sees Beardsley work excellently with bassist Keith Trombley to deliver slab after slab of pure, unabashed carnage. Where Gravebloom transcends from mere heaviness into absurdity is with consideration of the tremendous trio that stand together as the band’s guitarists. Joe Santangelo, Andrew Rutley and Noah Lothes work in unison to give I:Empath much of the diversity and dynamic that allows Gravebloom to truly stand out in the rising deathcore tide. “Abysmal” is one such track, elegantly blending contemporary “-core” aggression with various metallic elements, including splashes of black metal and atmospheric post-metal. These elements can be heard earlier in the record to boot—“Empath” and “Awake Awakened” especially—in beautiful contrast with the outright brutality that defines “Hate by Design” and “Torment.” Santangelo, Rutley and Lothes are excellent at what they do, and in great thanks to their ability to weave various musical stylings into Gravebloom’s backbone of deathcore, they succeed in keeping I:Empath largely free from monotony. Is this to say that throughout the hour-long epic the sextet manages to avoid it altogether? Unfortunately not—as several aspects of the record (especially the middle 4-5 tracks) do start to run together, it remains forgivable, as while the tracks do blend, they at no point become unenjoyable because of it. Plus, let’s be frank—it’s 60 minutes of blistering metallic aggression—there are parts that are going to sound similar, by no fault of…well, anyone, really.
Running 60 minutes long, and with a mere three and a half minutes dedicated to instrumental interludes, the vocal element on I:Empath is make-or-break. Fortunately, frontman Justin Garcia is a tank, and more than capable of keeping the listener hook for the album’s duration. Boasting a remarkable variety in both native range and the guest vocalists chosen to add spice to I:Empath (it doesn’t take someone with a degree in Great Lakes Hate to recognize Forces’ Colton Head), Garcia and Gravebloom at large do a tremendous job. “All-Important,” “Hate by Design” and “Traitor” leap out at the listener as tracks where Garcia proves himself to be a vocal powerhouse, whereas “Awake Awakened” and “Abysmal” both shine as unique cuts—be it by native prowess and ingenuity or outright stellar selection in guest appearance. The downside to Garcia’s performance lies within arguable the most common area of complaint when it comes to deathcore (and metal in general)—the lyrics. While no song is truly terrible, or even bad, very few tracks have lyrics that hit particularly hard. This is another forgivable element of I:Empath, because let’s be real—few and far between are the heavy acts whose selling point rests within their lyrics. Gravebloom—and Garcia especially—absolutely shine when it comes to vocal performance, which is crucial when considering Garcia’s voice is present throughout upwards of 50 minutes throughout the 60 minute adventure Gravebloom send the listener on.
Earning monstrous bonus points for ingenuity, originality and the sheer balls it takes to drop an hour long record with only minor demerits for mild monotony and unremarkable lyricism, it’s safe to say Gravebloom stand to make a big mark on the local and regional heavy music community with I:Empath. Energetic and aggressive without sacrificing the ability to find time to make something pretty between all the pissed-off breakdowns and punishing riffs, Gravebloom are young and worth their weight in gold when it comes to potential—making them a band bound to become notorious beyond the borders of the mitten before too much longer.
For Fans Of: Chelsea Grin, Filth, Forces, August Burns Red
By: Connor Welsh