Album Review: Gravemind - 'Conduit'

24 July 2019 | 2:19 pm | Alex Sievers
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"Why are we here? Just to suffer?" -M.

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Gravemind's debut album, 'Conduit,' is about facing the unknown. About a young man coming to terms with not just his own thoughts and that which lies within, but his life and his future too. In some form of meta-commentary, it's also about a young, rising metal band stepping up with their first full-length to prove what they can do; what they can achieve. As the title suggests, 'Conduit' is just that: a conduit for Gravemind and vocalist Dylan Gillies-Parsons to get across to listeners what they are musically as a unit, what they wish to share of themselves as people.

Whether it's 'Hard Rain', and the fear of not being able to help those closest to you as you can't often help yourself, it doesn't shy away from personal issues. Whether it's a theme of parenthood on the brutally honest 'Phantom Pain', about a single mother facing uncertainty for herself and her child after the POS father walks out on them, it embraces tough subjects. Whether it's 'Zero-Point Energy' and finding what you want in this life, pouring yourself into something creative and fulfilling as opposed to wage-slavery, it's not afraid to declare that you should "live like you die." Whether it's passionately burning and bleeding for something you love, like your band, as per 'Volgin', it pushes ahead even if other's cannot see the merit. (That one's named after a villain from Metal Gear Solid 3 and MGSV, whose later-arc as the Man On Fire is a fitting representation of the driving personal flames spoken of in the track.) Maybe it's 'Hollow' and addressing your own depression, working out how you're going to deal with it all and get by. Perhaps it's 'Reveal' and talking of the distrust within one's self, pondering what kind of truth there is to attain in a dishonest world such as our own, so you search for something that makes you feel alive. Or it's 'The Effigy', and this idea of crumbling of self-assurance when you think you understand everything only to be blind-sided by hubris and ignorance.

If anything, 'Conduit' is all of these things, all of these thoughts barrelling forwards at once. It's a record of many questions but few answers, yet that's perfectly okay. For this isn't the Tassie-turned-Melbourne heavy act not trying to be some authority on these matters, but merely the start of a wider conversation; an honest expression of all these doubts regarding the unknown. And it's that personal questioning and larger-thinking of existentialism that elevates Gravemind's first LP above much of the concept-driven deathcore pack. Even with all the science fiction imagery surrounding this record - the towering red monolith donning the artwork, to that fake-language cipher - this is such a grounded-in-reality record. Peel back the metaphorical layers and things reveal themselves to be tangible, and that goes so far in adding to the heavy impact of the emotive deathcore/metalcore heard on 'Conduit'. Something that I also love about the new Northlane album, 'Alien': heavy music with real, heavy feelings to share from artists bold enough to speak on these deeply internal things.

In fact, Gravemind's 2018 single, 'Lifelike,' seems to have been a harbinger for what has now to come pass; a herald of where Gravemind would now venture with the lyricism and song-writing of 'Conduit.' Because things aren't metaphorical or concept driven this time around, and that's a move for the better. (Well, no, the only concept song here is 'Reading;Steiner', written about the time-travelling anime Stein's;Gate, even sampling Suzuha Amane in the bridge. And the lyrics reflect that inspiration; convoluted time flow, endless nights, memory lost and the places in-between driving one insane.) This approach makes everything about these 11 new songs that much more emotional and relatable. All songs speaking of existentialism: life, death, depression, hope, what happens when we die, where we go, etc. It's instrumentality; a means to an end. You, me, Gravemind, this album, it all ends.

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[caption id="attachment_1107204" align="aligncenter" width="760"] Gravemind, 2019. [/caption]

Gravemind have grown infinitely more dynamic and spacier now, with more frequent yet tasteful singing parts and whispered vocal lines adding to the hefty, almost-theatrical nature of the LP. The dynamic peaks hit hard, the compositions are more melodic and larger, and the band's implementation of those aforementioned whispered and spoken-word vocal parts is the best they've ever been. Also on the vocals, Dylan has loved to utilise said whispered parts in their songs quite often in the past, and that hasn't changed here, yet the implementation is a lot smoother; more fitting with these specific arrangements. For example, take the short spoken-word rant during 'Reveal', similar to that of Deathgate, but just better integrated. That's but one great example of this band simply getting better at certain things over time and properly growing with their art and sound as it develops further.

The mix on 'Conduit', done by Lance Prenc, who basically mixes any Australian heavy band nowadays with a drop-tuning, is focused on the drums, the bass, and the vocals. Which puts a very real emphasis on the lyrics and what Dylan is getting across here with the words he shares. You can't really hide away from what he's saying. Not only that, the vocals have gotten a lot better: the lows are heavier and carry further, the higher-pitched screams are more intense, and his pronunciation is clearer too. Just in general, the vocals are a lot more pained and human, like blood-curdling shrieks in 'Phantom Pain' or 'Vox Populi', or those sick, beastly lows in 'Volgin' that adds to the weight of the songs. Leaning harder on this is the fact that 'Conduit' is a very well-paced record, with the band stitching these 11 tracks together competently to make a complete piece. Like the heavy breathing that closes 'Phantom Pain'  ending with a thudding tom hit as the clean tapping guitars for 'Reading;Steiner' kick in. Or like that smooth-as-hell transition between 'The Effigy' and 'Reveal', all done with a quick drum fill and a little guitar swell.  The only other back-to-back song combo executed this well was the 'Deadspace'/'Anaesthesia' one-two hit from their 2017 EP, 'Deathgate.'

As a mere observation towards the production, the guitars - performed by writer Damon Bredin, Michael Petritsch, and Aden Young - aren't as in your face as previous releases. Don't get me wrong, they're not hidden, and they sure do have their moments of intensity and technicality, they just aren't quite as punchy as before. This personally doesn't bother me, as I'm not an insufferable guitar nerd - I'm just an insufferable music critic - but I do think that the djent/guitar nerd crowd may have some strong feelings about how the guitars are presented in this mix. However, there's also more variety to the effects and tones brought forward on the guitars too, and that goes a LONG way. Like the delayed lines on 'Hard Rain'; that weird alien-like, modulated tone used in the second half of 'Embrace'; those expanded melodic lines during 'Vox Populi'; or the glitchy electronic edits to the riffs in the breakdowns of 'Zero-Point Energy.' There's heaps more to gauge here than endless chugs, growls and double kicks, and I'm super thankful for that.

Hell, you can count the number of blast beats found on 'Conduit' with just one hand and your thumb being severed off. And that makes each part, like the intro to 'Volgin' or the mid-section of 'Embrace', feel way more powerful. It feels earned. For if every song made use of repetitive blasts, all of the meaning and "oomph" would be lost. Likewise, the breakdowns don't clutter the record nor go on for too long, And Gravemind have figured out how to lock themselves down into some wicked grooves, as they do on 'Embrace', with drummer Karl Steller getting more interesting with his note placement, making for more engaging rhythmic backbone. (Like those hectic, lurching parts to 'Volgin' or the rapid ghost noted snare work on 'Reading;Steiner'.) The same goes for their three guitarists loving to crank out bending "bow-wow" chugs that puncture tunes like 'Hollow', adding to the desperation of that particular track.

This recorded is littered with tiny but great moments of genius song-writing; awesome parts that hook me in so well. Like how Dylan's brooding growls of "no tears when you die" align with the rolling double kick rhythms on 'Phantom Pain' right after the first chorus. Or like how his high-register screams perfectly sit alongside higher-pitched dissonant guitar notes during the final measures of 'Reveal'. It's moments like that short clean guitar lick at the end of Hollow, underneath the repeating vocal calls of "let go!", or the sci-fi vocoder used on the vocals near the end of 'Hard Rain' that are such nice ornamentation for the record and the band's sound. Or like how there's that held scream of "we're driving off the edge" on 'Vox Populi' (Latin for the voice of the people", also a nice little Bioshock: Infinite reference) just as the arrangement itself really opens up. As if the song had just been hurled off a figurative edge and plunged down into a new sonic world. And that's not even mentioning that sweet cleanly sung note in the background of the very same song before the final heavy section. Again, it's the little things about 'Conduit' that I love the most.

Closing song, 'The Entropy', does feel like a proper finish, with fitting choruses of "all things have to end", and the stacked melodic tremolo that drops in the song's last section. While by this point in the record, Gravemind have shown their full hand, and that anything after the far-too-familiar nature of 'The Entropy' would feel superfluous or unnecessary, it does feel like the final page of the album's book. Expect it technically isn't. There's actually a hidden song called 'Repulse[d]', which only appears at the end on physical copies. The band kindly showed me this song recently, and as a cool Easter Egg b-side track, it's a pretty neat idea. Yet it's a bit of "nothing" song, to be honest; one that lacks a unique, defying element that its more accomplished siblings offer.

Which is why the album feels a little unfinished, as 'The Entropy' ends with this strange atmospheric guitar noodling section that makes it sound like Gravemind and producer Scottie Simpson (Alpha Wolf), tracked it and then forgot said audio clip was sitting at the end of the session. That's how oddly placed it is. It's like it's meant to lead into 'Repulse[d]', but as that song isn't on all versions of the LP, it's an odd choice that doesn't aid the ending structure and the full, final pay-off for 'Conduit' in my mind. But man, if that's my only real criticism here, then Gravemind are doing something right!

'Conduit' is a seriously strong debut effort for Gravemind. It's direct, it's heavy, it's heart-felt, and it's very well-written and honest in what it presents. Gravemind's first full-length is deathcore with real heart, burning with passion and expression, with something genuine to share, and with plenty more melody and dynamism to offer than most other bands of their ilk. God knows that deathcore needs more bands like Gravemind moving forward as a genre. Songs like 'Volgin', 'Vox Populi' and 'Phantom Pain' are going to be huge staples for the Melbourne group from now, just you watch.

This album is a real leap forward for guitarist Damon Bredin as a songwriter, for Dylan Gillies-Parsons as a lyricist and vocalist, and for Gravemind as a whole. Considering their fresh marketing approach, the made-up language, the self-management and DIY aspects of this band, Gravemind put in so much effort and hopefully, this damned solid debut LP will see them reaping the fruits and benefits of their hard labour. It's a bold record in terms of its grandeur themes of existentialism and in it daring to try a few new things for the band's sound. For just as how the riffy, jagged 'Zero Point Energy' is about doing what you want in life and staying true to yourself, that best describes Gravemind right now with their debut LP. Life is what you make it, so just do you. Go out and take it now. Just make you sure that listen to 'Conduit' before doing so.

The Effigy



Vox Populi

Hard Rain

Phantom Pain


Zero-Point Energy



The Entropy

Repulse[d] (Hidden track, available on physical versions)

'Conduit' is out now via Greyscale Records.

Full disclosure: alongside Gravemind's former publicist, Tim Price, I wrote Gravemind a letter of recommendation in mid-2018 that helped the band to secure a Victorian government arts grant that awarded them funding to aid in making 'Conduit.' I was happy to help out as I believe in what this band does and wish to support them. However, I'd also feel better this fact being known so that people reading this review can make their own minds up on any bias from me that may be present in this review. Cheers.