As proof that nothing can keep a good ghoul down, Grave Robber have mastered Escaping the Grave (pun always intended) and are back with a new found intensity in their fifth full-length album of soon-to-be horror punk favorites.
By now, I would hope everyone reading this has at least heard of Grave Robber as it’s not every day you get to see a band in full skeleton regalia playing horror-tinged punk rock at a furious pace. Then again, their last full length was 2011’s You’re All Gonna Die, so there could be a number of you who haven’t seen/heard of them. Dating all the way back to 2005, Grave Robber has released four full-length albums, at least one ep in Straight to Hell in 2014, and been on a host of compilations. Be Afraid was the album that kicked it all off and from the very first play, many, including myself, were hooked at the combination of Misfits speed and fury, Wretched’s smooth, deep vocals, and a tongue-in-cheek, B-Horror movie approach to lyrics, that make it entirely appropriate to sing along with “I want to kill you over and over again” as the song is actually talking about pride. Fun songs about sin, sacrifice, and redemption seems like an odd mix but they’ve made it work. Since their last release the band has undergone numerous tragedies, family emergencies, consistent lack of a drummer, and multiple member changes, more than enough for most bands to call it quits, but following a successful crowdfunding campaign, the band pressed on and with some assistance from Jim Chaffin (Crucified) on drums, we are blessed with Escaping the Grave. Now keep in mind the band hasn’t been on hiatus between albums and done everything from play on volcanoes in Mexico to eating gooey butter cake in St. Louis after a show and played everywhere they could between Mexico and their home in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.
As is only appropriate, Escaping the Grave starts out with a creepy intro that incorporates some odd noises as the tension builds then with a hint of feedback, the band launches straight into one of the faster songs on the album “Into the Pit” instantly bringing up Earth A. D. era Misfits comparisons. “The Evil Dead” slows things down a bit and makes good use of the trademark Grave Robber “Whoah-oh” lyrical device. The “Whoah-oh” has become a staple in Grave Robber songs over the years and the band makes great use of it in a seemingly never-ending variety of formats. What struck me the most in the first couple of songs is the muscular tone to the guitars and how the bass is more prominent in the mix than in past albums. To my ears, the production and mix is as near spot-on as it could be. Wretched’s vocals are as strong, deep, and smooth as ever and the band has varied the backing gang vocals to the songs as well. Everything just works.
Of course there’s always something to be critical about, right? For instance, on “Zombieland” the verse sections are primarily just bass and drum and my ears would like to have heard the bass a bit louder, but after a few seconds, I’m back singing along with the next “Whoah-oh” and all is forgotten. After going back through the album a few times, one has to call out Jim Chaffin for the great drum work on it, in a lot of ways reminding me of Dave Lombardo sitting in on the recent Suicidal Tendencies albums.
“The Beast Within” takes the Earth AD Misfits sound up a notch as the song roars along much like “Green Hell” but then has this great tempo and rhythm shift in the middle that keeps things interesting. “Lips of Blood” is the next track and probably my least favorite on the album as it seems to be a bit less dark and powerful as the rest of the tracks on the album. Still a good song, but reminds me more of something from 2011’s You’re All Gonna Die. This brings me to another point, compared to their previous releases, this one seems more like a cross between Be Afraid and Exhumed but with a fuller sound.
“The Conjuring” has to be my favorite song on the album. The opening has that recorded live feel as you hear an inadvertent bass and guitar string being hit and then the driving main riff comes in leaning more toward a metal sound and combined with an authoritative vocal style addressing those who promote heresy in the church, one can’t help but raise the fist and sing along. “The Swarm” continues in the same vein and shows Wretched taking the vocals up a notch in intensity. Also worth specifically calling out on the album is the feedback-drenched cover of Leper’s “Jet Black Tears”. While Wretched’s voice is not nearly the same as Skot Shaw’s, and the song a bit faster, it is an interesting cover with the slower version sections and faster chorus. Ending the album with the title track is a great example of how to choose song order. The dark intensity and tough subject matter of some of the earlier tracks evaporates immediately in brighter song that celebrates Christ’s victory over death and has an almost party-like feel to it and would serve as the perfect end to a live show set as well.
Much like their previous releases, Grave Robber has once again managed to combine clever lyrics, driving fast, metal-tinged punk rock guitars, an incredible rhythm section, and Wretched’s distinctive vocals into a great package and finished it off with a fuller sound and a sense of urgency, making this arguably one of their best.
Written by John Jackson
1) Burial Ground
2) Into The Pit
3) The Evil Dead
5) The Beast Within
6) Lips Of Blood
7) The Conjuring
8) The Swarm
9) The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave
10) Jet Black Tears
11) Escaping The Grave
Wretched – vokills, shovel
Carcass – bass, vokills
Viral – guitar, vokills
Grimm – guitar, vokills
Plague – smash doom tub
Record Label: Rottweiler Records
Release Date: 13 April 2018