SummaryGalloping through the fields of the dead
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Although criticism regarding technology is often justified, you’ll have to admit that if it weren’t for the internet, several obscure metal gems probably had not been discovered by a wider audience. Latvia’s Grindmaster Dead are a perfect example of such; having independently released only one album, there’s no way you’d stumble upon this, had you been around in the 90’s.
Calling Stronger than Love an obscure classic would be far-fetched, but this is yet another doom/death metal of its time that seems to be buried and forgotten. Of course none of this would be relevant if Grindmaster Dead had no clue about doom and gloom, but I can assure you that they’ve paid attention to the great bands that released albums earlier. The band never forgets to put the emphasis on the doom metal aspect (something that plenty of doom/death metal bands had forgotten about), as the heavy load of crushing riffs could only emerge from this genre and no other. “At the Wizard’s Sabbath” opens up with the same creep-o-rama of Black Sabbath’s self-titled track itself and “Under the Willow Tree” nods towards “Children of the Grave”, albeit it also displays some death metal riffs along the ride.
While Grindmaster Dead weren’t the only ones that wore their influences on their sleeve and their signature riffing may not be completely original, the band certainly knows how to put these to good use. I’ll admit that the death metal sections don’t provide me that sense of satisfaction that I get out albums such as Last One on Earth or As the Flower Withers, yet most of these add an additional dimension to the sound that I’m certainly fond of. Tracks like the melodic whirlwind of “This Realm of Silence” and the “Children of the Grave” / death metal hybrid of “Under the Willow Tree” highlight that Grindmaster Dead manage to rely on the strengths of both sub-styles. Only “Summer Gods” hints no sign of doom whatsoever and despite that solid bouncy intro riff and smashing drums, the track ends up far more generic than the rest due to its been-there-done-that tremolo riffing that by 1994 wasn’t really note-worthy anymore.
One filler aside, generally the slow riffs refrain from plodding onward with no intent, while the death metal riffs contribute to the compositions’ requirements instead of ruining momentum. Just behold how the semi-epic title track demolishes onward with those grinding riffs, only to fire off some frenzy tremolo riffing around the two minute mark, yet the final two minutes of the track are the most specular. Hearing those slow riffs groan next to those creepy flutes, while spoken word passages, fragile female vocals and bellowing grunts collide is truly moving; as if I’m listening to an tragic tale that harkens all the way back to a forgotten Latvian village. Indeed, the use of additional instruments make Stronger than Love sound grim and gloomy, yet extremely unique; there’s no way you’d mistake this album for a lost Peaceville Three record, nor does the atmosphere feels connected to that of what the Swedes were doing around this time.
Of course, the production also plays a big role here, as it makes the record sound way older than it actually is. You’ve heard more massive guitar tones, yet this rough tone works ideally and I can easily excuse the cheap-sounding flute. That said, the production allows these compositions to perfectly capture the essence of the semi-evocative cover artwork. Latin spoken passages recall religious experiences during times of uncertainty, while the general song titles recall the myths of old (with the exception of the titled track, of course).
You’ve guessed it; I’d have liked to have heard a follow-up to Stronger than Love, because this is one hell of an interesting record. If doom/death metal is your thing, then this hidden gem should certainly add some value to your life.
Release date: 1994
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