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Gravestone - Ars Arcana

Gravestone
Ars Arcana
by Ian Yera at 16 January 2022, 9:24 PM

GRAVESTONE falls into the Melodic Death Metal category, but there’s a lot more going on than your usual melodeath here. These guys are from Italy, and it shows; the operatic and incredibly dramatic style on display here is very reminiscent of classic Italian power metal with a touch of bands like Fleshgod Apocalypse. This is some of the cheesiest death metal I’ve heard in a while, with narrations and I would assume an actual story throughout, but I don’t have the lyrics in front of me so I have no idea what the story is actually about. I don’t love the production, it’s hard to put my finger on exactly what is wrong with it because It’s a number of small things that all coincide to make a good album sound worse than it is. The production is just kind of thin, I would guess because they wanted an overall drier sound, but when you have a more dense arrangement like this, dry signal doesn’t really work because all the layers of your music get buried under a noise wall and there’s not much to help give it the depth you want. Something I will say I think Fleshgod Apocalypse gets very right with their production. The drums just sound weak, I know from personal experience that drums are the hardest things to mix, it’s really easy to go too far in either direction (not enough mids, too much mids, too much treble, not enough, etc). Unfortunately all of this does bring the album down, but I did still enjoy this album.

So first and foremost, the most important aspect of this album and really the glue that holds it all together, is the keyboard. Massimiliano Buffolino does a phenomenal job on this, sometimes providing background support with a synth patch that just adds to the eerie atmosphere of the album. In the softer parts we get regular piano which is just beautiful and always provides a nice change of pace, but most importantly, the keyboard solos; holy crap the keyboard solos. I’ll be talking more about the solos later, but suffice to say Buffolina is an excellent improviser and has an incredible sense of how to add to death metal with the notes he picks. He reminds me of a lot of different keyboard centric metal bands, but off the top of my head, because I’ve been listening to them recently, think about how the PERSEFONE keyboard player enhances their music and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. I feel bad giving too much credit to one musician, so let’s talk about the guitars. I wouldn’t exactly say they’re anything special, but the guitar riffs absolutely work on this album and they help keep everything flowing so the pacing doesn’t feel strained or unnatural, which is good because it is a concept album. Marco Borrani and Gabriele Maschietti do a good job and are quite talented players. The bass doesn’t get to shine very often, but here and there you can hear Massimiliano Salvatori holding down that bass line and I certainly like his tone. One thing I’m a little confused on is who’s doing the male vocals here, because it has Simona Guerrini listed as the only vocalist, so is she providing the harsh vox as well? Not really a big deal, I’m just curious, she does a great job regardless. To enhance the operatic soundscape the classic beauty and the beast trope (dueling harsh and clean vocals) is used to great effect here, and of course it helps in a concept album when you need to portray different characters.

The first half of the album is solid, but forgettable, the music is beautiful, but the hooks just don’t really land for me. However in the back half, starting with Aqua I think is when the best songwriting comes out. Great riffs, and excellent pacing. By pacing I mean the general flow of the harmonic rhythm, how fast the chords change and rhythmic tempo of course which dictates how and when the time signatures change and the rhythm section keeps the rhythms varied enough that I never get bored. However the best song on the album has to be Quinta Essentia, which of course is the longest song on the album. If you’re new to my reviews I always tend to like the longer tracks and the reason is simple; when I like a band’s sound and they have good songwriting skills, I want them to have more time in a song to develop ideas, to push boundaries and try new things. One of my favorite things in music, in writing reviews, is when I get an album that actually surprises me and tries new things. This might not be the best example of that, but I feel like I get few enough good Progressive Death Metal albums that I definitely take what I can get. Quinta Essentia is where the keyboards REALLY shine, he’s just so fast and light on his fingers, as a keyboard player myself I can tell he’s really good and like I said they really end up being the heart and soul of this album.

The Slaughter Conspiracy is pretty good, but I do wish there was less narration, it just takes me out of the music more than it adds, but I can at least enjoy the organ in the background, so let's call that one a wash. Once we actually get to the song, as it's name implies it's fast and probably the most brutal song on the album. Once again the keyboards add so much to the sound and the band keeps the rhythms varied and interesting. I've said the hooks aren't really that, well memorable on this album and that's only really true in so far as the choruses are either nonexistent or just not the focus of the song, which is fine because the riffs, the solos, and the transitions more than make up for that. One of the most memorable parts of the album though comes at the end of Slaughter Conspiracy when a more drab and emotional tone overtakes the song and it ends on an introspective note. Very neat. I don't have too much to say about The Death of Falco De Nieri, other than it's quite a bombastic song to end with. I do wish they could have gotten someone other than Giacomo Voli, like I get it he's the vocalist for one of the biggest names in Italian metal, but there are so many better vocalists from Italy they could have gotten (hell I would have preferred Fabio Lione, he might be overused but there's a good reason for it).

All in all this album was a pleasant surprise. All of the things I didn't like about it are actually pretty easy fixes, which makes me hopeful that their next album could really knock it out of the park. I like this style of operatic, Melodic/Progressive Death Metal, I want more bands like this and I want more death metal opera. Just maybe less narration.

Songwriting: 7/10
Musicianship: 9/10
Memorability: 7/10
Production 6/10

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1 Lumen Et Umbra
2. Santa Militia
3. Terra
4. Ignis
5. Aer
6. Aqua (Feat. Ketty Passa)
7. Quinta Essentia
8. The Slaughter Conspiracy (Feat. Cristiano Borchi)
9. The Death of Folco De'Nieri (Feat. Giacomo Voli)
Lineup:
Marco Borrani - Guitars
Massimiliano Buffolino - Keyboards
Massimiliano Maax Salvatori - Bass
David Folchitto - Drums
Gabriele Maschietti - Guitars
Simona Guerrini - Vocals
Record Label: Elevate Records
     


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Edited 02 October 2022
 

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