Usually, you can set your watch to it — when bands start numbering their albums, and referencing their classic past lyrics in their current songs, they're officially golden oldies. They may still be making good music, but they've made the transition to elder statesmen, and even their best work from this point forward will have the faint froth of treading water on its sides. GRAVE hit that point a while ago, freeing up the band from expectations of innovation or even originality. Like fellow early 1990's DM royalty DISMEMBER and UNLEASHED, we don't seek out their new records to be knocked on our asses by excess creativity or mind expansion. We just wanna know — do they still got it?
For GRAVE, the answer is a resounding yes, along with a fist to the face — "Dominion VIII" is the fastest, most pissed-off, and arguably the best album these have guys have cooked up since their 2001 reformation. Simple, to-the-point Swedish death metal is the order of the day, crackling with intensity and laced with plenty of thrashing fast parts to cause the sort of headbanging that'll leave you paralyzed in the morning. When they're not blazing away, they're delivering the kind of pulverizing midtempo riffing that made "You'll Never See" and "Soulless" such steamrollers of hateful, downtuned death.
It's not compelling all the time — sometimes a song will get bogged down in a mire of go-nowhere chug (see "Deathstorm" and "Annihilated God"), allowing attention to wander, but you're never too far from a fired-up and brutal riff and a careening polka drumbeat to get you back into the vicious, dirty 1989 vibe. They seem most at home nowadays at full speed — there are a few tantalizing guitar hooks here and there that hint at some of the agonizing slow bits they used to be so good at, and a few more of those would have really fleshed out "Dominion VIII" in style (the closest we get is the admittedly cool "You'll Never See" lurch in the middle of "Sinners Lust").
GRAVE is right where they oughta be at this point in the band's life — they're not gonna turn in an album of the year at this point, but if you're already a fan, "Dominion VIII" will go down just right and bring back a whiff of that old school DM vibe, as pungent as the dye on a crackly new backpatch and as black as the ink stains on a tape trader's worn-out writing hand. Prepare yourself for grim and murky death metal in the old style, the kind of stuff that doesn't rely on triggered blast beats, light-in-the-loafers warbling, or anything but the crudest building blocks to construct its killing art.