Review: GRÀB Embraces the Beyond on Zeitlang

            Death gradually becomes an acquaintance as life progresses, and its final embrace is inevitable at some point along the path. The approach of this end stage is often accompanied by lifetime contemplations and a withdrawal from society, along with a newfound strength while joining with darkness, and these tendencies aren’t just limited to elders, but also reflect many black metal attitudes. Now the commonalities between those two perspectives have led to an unlikely union through GRÀB, a new German entity whose name translates to “grey,” or “old,” and their variety of “Bavarian black metal” is demonstrated on a full-length enchantment titled Zeitlang. Black metal is combined with the region’s native elements and other features to create a deeply immersive atmosphere, which is carried by rhythmic power and songwriting in the unique spirit of GRÀB, and a dim glow from Zeitlang beckons toward the night for an awaiting transcendence.

            The ambience and effects introduce a solitary venture on “Sched oreidig (Nauseating),” with ravens and droning voices to accompany footsteps in snow, and they lead toward harsh orchestrations on “Nachtkrapp (Night Raven).” Their heaviness proceeds with augmenting keys, and the entrancing rhythmic flow integrates double bass and tremolo sections that break for an atmospheric highlight. The groove returns to prompt a grand expansion, along with blast beats and folk elements appearing as it unfolds, and this aura is sustained until drifting into “Zeitlang (Yearning),” where an extraordinary scene and atmosphere are presented. Traditional Bavarian instruments are used throughout this entire work, and their distinct character shows here amid sounds of a crackling hearth while the wind howls from a bitter outdoor climate. A creaking door opens in response to its knocking call, and samples of German speaking precede the heavy onset. Its slow processive pace emanates with a power echoed by Grànt ’s vocals, which possess a perfect rasp for the overall tone, and they complement the melodic developments by including various mournful and spoken dynamics. The gloom persists through other majestic currents, and a distant tremolo rawness is noted before melancholic leads carry the ending to an oppressive shift on “Weizvåda (Wraith Father).” Bleakness forms in the converging tremolo layers, and multiple vocal exchanges also ensue once the storm relents. A steady rhythm follows with radiance in the formations that bring the track to a vehement completion.

            An unwavering distorted mass fits the purpose expressed on “Nordwand (Northern Wall),” and arpeggiations rise when its cold essence transfers to a groove with heavy progressions. Folk nuances manifest in the riff following a rugged bass break, and the impact of its slow pace is enhanced by Bavarian notes while the initial disposition remains steadfast. Its endurance is punctuated by thunderous effects before the shift to a rocking beat on “A dåg im Herbst (A Day in Autumn),” where the Bavarian spirit becomes increasingly pronounced as it traverses rhythmic fluctuations, and voices also emerge to sustain a haunting presence throughout. Their enchantments persist when melodic forms emerge within the bleak riffing, and these diverse textures culminate with melancholic soloing. Vocal anguish compounds the gloom leading to a magnificent instrumental display on “Auf da Roas (On a Journey),” and it creates an evocative setting with other atmospheric tones for a transition to imminent demise on “S’ letzte G’leit (The Funeral Procession).” Its brooding melody drives the sense of dread as a steady flow develops, and this morphs with elevated melodic formations toward a transcendence echoed in resounding vocals. Horns signal an end lamented further on “A Gråbliacht (A Votive Candle),” with spectral elements initiating the somber onset, and arpeggiated sorrow is answered by percussive rage and the burden of imposing riffs. Vocals magnify their writhing despair, along with a mournful lead that soars over the striking intensity, and it’s all conclusively laid to rest with the fading resonance of horns.

            The Bavarian language is appropriately chosen for the lyrical poetry, so most of its exact content remains unknown for those of us foreign to this dialect. Thankfully, the band has provided a detailed commentary on the story, and it follows the path of an old man who withdraws from society and into nature to reflect on his life as death approaches. The journey begins with a nightmare from his childhood on “Sched oreidig,” and outcomes are foretold as he revisits the source of fears relating to darkness on “Nachtkrapp.” This folkloric tale involves a “Night Raven” who kidnaps children after dark, which he remembers from childhood, and it also contains deeper meanings about moving forward while accepting one’s fate. As an adult on “Zeitlang,” his disdain for humanity and allure toward nature leads to a gradual union with darkness, and we also learn it’s the reaper who knocks on his door in this song. He receives the first glimpses of death here before his paranormal awareness expands on “Weizvåda,” with the spirits in nature he senses and anticipates joining, but in the meantime, he continues persevering against all obstacles through the empowerment from solitude on “Nordwand.”

            Transience is the main focus on “A dåg im Herbst,” and as death approaches nature during autumn, so also does human life fade and end. The man realizes his time is close as weariness and cold set in, and “Auf da Roas” carries this transition with nostalgic realizations of the good times during a life he hated. The reaper finally comes for him on “S’ letzte G’leit,” and at this point the man is tired and gladly accompanies Death into the endless night. While the other tracks are related by the old man, his final moments are viewed from the reaper’s perspective on “A Gråbliacht.” He buries the man in an isolated grave up in the mountains during the night, and then reflects on how the end ultimately comes with candlelight dimming in the darkness. The themes of life and death, contempt for humanity, admiration of nature, and strength from solitude are all effectively captured through immense expressions, and listening to the songs with these insights in mind shows the music embodies their powerful essence.

           GRÀB have orchestrated a monumental opus on Zeitlang, and its influences from Bavarian folklore join with the black metal ethos for an inspired venture into depths beyond the inner self. Cold expressions of despair and contempt for humanity emerge from the complementary factor between these forces, but room for contemplation also appears while radiating with strength, resilience, and courage as the time comes to move forward alone. Nature and darkness are embraced in potent riffs with evocative melodic forms, which are enhanced by Bavarian instruments alongside other atmospheric qualities, and purposeful rhythms carry their enchantment with vocal dynamics to affirm a visceral effect. I certainly hope to see future works from GRÀB, and will be interested to see what they conjure next, but the imprint left by Zeitlang will ultimately haunt far along the path ahead.

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