The threat of nuclear war looms again, as two egocentric power-players from opposite ends of the world puff their flabby chests and bait each other with ridiculous put-downs. If the end-times are indeed near and we have no control over it, should we just “surf the apocalypse” and party now until our demise? Grave Pleasures’ second full-length, Motherblood, would certainly provide a fitting soundtrack to dance to while the world burns. Bodies charred mid-jitterbug; wild grins permanently stretched across melted faces. All the while the megaton chorus hook of “Falling for an Atom Bomb” echoes off the rubble, its Roky Erickson-worthy refrain on a perpetual loop.
Motherblood is loaded with apocalyptic imagery amidst dark-hearted romanticism. The pertinent “Doomsday Rainbows”, a modern post-punk anthem, drips with nihilism and urgency, heightened as singer Mat “Kvohst” McNerney frantically proclaims: “Our time is up! Our time is up! Our time is up!” The riffs are twitchy, almost paranoid in their early movements, while the bass and drums remain steadfast, locked-in and thumping like an atomic clock. It rushes towards a satisfying conclusion and is followed by “Be My Hiroshima”, an equally catchy, adrenaline-surging goth-rock song from what many will note is the album Grave Pleasures should have released following the demise of Beastmilk.
Climax, Beastmilk’s metallic post-punk debut, turned many heads back in 2013, a striking mix of Danzig, the Chameleons, Gang of Four, the Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, and their ilk. The buzz band crafted infectious melodies and the mainstream appeal of their effortlessly cool music was high. While riding a crest of critical acclaim, Beastmilk split, much to the surprise and disappointment of many new followers. Shortly thereafter, Kvohst formed Grave Pleasures with Beastmilk bassist Valtteri Arino and brought in guitarist Juho “Jun-His” Vanhanen (Oranssi Pazuzu), guitarist Linnéa Olsson (ex-the Oath), and drummer Uno Bruniusson (In Solitude). Two years ago this month they released the rather underwhelming Dreamcrash LP which sadly lacked the songwriting magnetism and dystopian atmosphere of Climax, despite playing with similar influences. The LP did little to suggest a healthy future for the band.
Now that we have the benefit of hindsight, however, Grave Pleasures’ debut can be seen as a transitional release, the sound of readjustment. Its successor certainly proves from front to back, that Climax wasn’t just fleeting necromancy. Undeniably, the same quality songwriting exists at the heart of Motherblood; it’s a concise series of filler-free tracks rippling with kinetic energy. It’s hard to know how much impact further line-up changes had on this creative upsurge — Olsson and Bruniusson left and were replaced by Aleksi Kiiskilä (ex-Kohu 63) and Rainer Tuomikanto (ex-Shining SWE) respectively — but it’s most likely down to Kvohst and Jun-His having acclimatized to each other’s songwriting approaches.
They make quite the duo here, not just on the more upbeat tracks, but also on somber inclusions such as the Cure-esque “Joy After Death” or “Atomic Christ”, which opens with Current 93’s David Tibet reciting bleak poetry in his distinctive style. The latter’s desperate tone stands at odds with the dance-floor shaking finale “Haunted Afterlife”, as resignation that nothing exists after the bombs drop sets in: “There is no atonement / There is no judgment / No revelation / No pearly gates of wisdom / No re-incarnation / No coming savior / No life in heaven / No unearthly paradise,” sings Kvohst somberly atop searing guitar licks and tantric rhythms. The juxtaposition between darkness and light is essential to Grave Pleasures’ music but also the Helsinki-based band’s lyrics and overall aesthetic, as confirmed by the cover art which places the Hindu goddess Kali, the giver of life and destroyer, as its centerpiece.
Motherblood is exactly the kind of album Grave Pleasures needed to release right now. The Ghost-like crossover appeal of Beastmilk is back with a bang and despite some songs utilizing identical musical themes, proving too uniform at times, the performances are very strong overall, particularly Khovst’s vocals. The current Hexvessel/former Code and Dødheimsgard front-man has a devilish swagger, honed during his time in underground metal, and his sexually-charged delivery incites each song. Most of which are constructed towards a massive chorus pay-off, begging to be sung back at the band at high volume in a live setting alongside Beastmilk bangers — “You Are Now Under Our Control”, “Genocidal Crush”, and “Love in a Cold World”. Of course, such future live soirées are entirely contingent on us not becoming ash in the near future, blowing wildly across a desolate post-Trump/Jong-un wasteland.