Original released independently on Bandcamp back in December, this debut full-length following the “Tome I” EP from 2017 has been picked up by for rerelease in physical formats. Ukraine has been notorious of late for a slew of Drudkh clones (deathcore antics of Jinjer aside) releasing albums of raw semi-competent, neo-folk black metal. Grave Circles opt for a more varied melodic and progressive sound, underpinned by muscular yet tempered aggression that fans of Watain and Marduk will be more familiar with.
Opening track “Both Of Me” sets out their stall with an introductory melody that speaks of hope and redemption, before launching into a brutal and technical barrage of riffing and percussion. The band also feature a smidgen of that signature Deathspell Omega dissonance in their sound, though it has to be said that the compositions here are less complex and significantly more accessible than those of the aforementioned Gauls. This dissonance is most effective when accompanying the reverential choral vocals that introduce and permeate “Faith That Fades”.
A reflective melodic passage halfway through “Thy Light Returneth” shows that the band are more than capable of slowing things down without letting up on the emotion, though a little more work on the performance and production of guitar solos wouldn’t go amiss. Showing yet another tool in their armoury, the progressive spacey guitar tone and time changes on “The Unspoken Curse” bring the more recent work of Enslaved to mind.
With the variety of diverse elements at play here, “Tome II” could easily have become a melting pot of juxtaposed ideas, however, this pitfall is avoided with intelligent craftmanship of each song. Rather than clutching desperately to be all things to all people, Grave Circles have succeeded in composing a respectably passionate and mature debut.