(In this post, DGR reviews the forthcoming self-titled album from Sacramento-based Conducting From the Grave.)
The time has come; after much label politics, a nail biter of a Kickstarter, and a three-year wait, Sacramento locals Conducting From The Grave are about to release their latest disc, an album that they aptly decided was going to be their self-titled effort.
The group’s discography prior to this has ranged from excellent to pretty good, and after one impressive EP and two strong yet very different major label releases, there was really no way of telling which way the band were going to go next. However, the group’s lead-off single of “Honor Guide Me!” was strong enough to generate a definite air of excitement surrounding their potential third release. It was a song that was more traditionally death metal than what the band had done before and it melded together so many differing elements to create the chaotic, whirling mass of riffs for which many people got into Conducting From The Grave in the first place.
The group have been pounding it out for years now and amassed quite the fanbase, some more familiar with the group’s second release Revenants than their label debut When Legends Become Dust. Conducting From The Grave are now an entirely different beast, attempting to hybrid the two together and create something entirely new and much, much heavier.
Although the band have never really had to modernize their sound because they’ve always felt just ahead of the times, Conducting From The Grave is the most cohesive record the band have created to date. It’s a crusher of a disc that has injected a hefty dosage of traditional death metal into their combination style of metalcore and melodeath. The band have always been just enough a part of each set to appeal to both, so they’ve always had strong crossover potential, and this self-titled disc should really add to it. They have written a guitar-heavy record with monstrous bass guitar and drum production that happens to incorporate even more ingredients into their already complicated mixture. This time, they’ve tuned lower and, yes, they even play with a little bit of the progressive metal and djent scenes, although not enough to be considered either. It’s just another set of riffs atop an already humongous pile — an angular, discordant and occasionally odd-time-signatured mountain of them.
The group have continued with their trend of having a huge set of production on the drums, which was one of the standout things about the Revenants disc; the drum sound had such heft, and Conducting continues that. Greg is still a beast behind the kit as he hammers away on the kick drums and distributes blasts with enough quickness as to make it seem effortless, and new (old?) bassist Jackson Jordan even gets his own time to shine on an album that highlights some of his bass parts. He already does a damn good job keeping the rhythm section alive, and flowing and following the guitar work on this release seems to be no easy effort.
One of the really exciting things about this disc is hearing guitarist duo John Abernathy and Jeff Morgan really let themselves loose again. There was a sense that they had reigned it in a bit on Revenants, and hearing them go absolutely nuts on guitar again is great. Revenants felt like a pummeling, rhythmic album with many riffs that went alongside what the low end was doing, but this self-titled release is a guitar nerd’s dream. So many different lead parts and little complicated segments pop up that it will likely challenge many budding bedroom guitarists for a long time to come. It’s a super tight, refined aspect of the band as they go sweeping up and down the fretboard, interweaving different, small melodies into each song with enough ease to make someone who doesn’t have the slightest understanding of guitar jealous.
Those two are literally all over the disc this time, so it’s difficult to point out specific songs that get the lion’s share of their contributions, although the group’s revealed singles of “Honor Guide Me!” and “Into The Rabbit Hole” are pretty good examples of what lies in store throughout the whole CD. The back half of the song “The Rise” seems to devolve into utter chaos before the guitars are just absolutely shredded in the solo section of the track before dropping into one last groove and head-crushing drill. That’s not to discount the main riffs that propel each song either. As mentioned, the group have seen fit to hybrid much of Revenants and When Legends Become Dust into an entirely new beast, as if they binged on nothing but brutal death metal and wanted to see what would happen when they wrote from within that spectrum. Some of the drilling they get up to is crushingly heavy this time around.
Conducting have proven that they are a band who can absorb many different styles into their own brand of who knows what the heck to define it as-core at this point, but they manage to do so without sounding like they’re just attempting to ape the latest trend. Hearing them play a bit into the more-strings-on-the guitar movement isn’t shocking one bit, and they make it work well for themselves because they pick parts up and drop them just as quickly, making each song a dynamic beast in its own right. Not one song on here can be pegged as, “Oh, thats the deathcore song” this time, because they meld so many differing parts into each one. That was actually one of the reasons I initially came to like the band so much. They wrote songs that never really telegraphed which way they were going to go, so much so that a breakdown didn’t feel like a, “You saw it coming from a mile away breakdown”, and it is great to see that aspect return to the band in full force on this disc.
Mikey Powell, the group’s lead vocalist (and one who managed to record a second release with the band — we must be close to the end times!), is still as monstrous as ever. The guy’s vocals only seem to have improved in the three-year span since his last recorded effort and he sounds more comfortable and brave on Conducting From The Grave. He makes good use of his full arsenal this time around, attempting to go to unintelligible lows, delivering shrieking highs (that I personally am a massive fan of), and yes, bringing a little bit more singing than he did the last time around. He subverts the usual singing standard in a couple of different ways, using it for the bridge on “Into The Rabbit Hole” – which has the effect of making the band sound a bit like Between The Buried And Me since he chooses to sing in a similar range as Tommy Giles. The band do this again in Part III of the apparent “Monster” trilogy of songs, by having the only clean sung section planted right in the beginning.
The only track that plays into the formula of clean-sung choruses is the song “Signs”, and they do pretty well with it. It’s not the sort of clean singing that subtracts from the song, and the chorus just grabs you. The band have pretty much doomed themselves to playing “Signs” live for the rest of their career with a chorus as strong as the one in that song. The rest of the song is a solid beast as well, but folks seem to panic whenever the idea of a clean sung section shows up in Conducting’s songwriting – though the band have shown time and time again that they’re only going to do so if it really contributes to the song.
Of course, Mikey’s true weapons are still his screams and the guy’s highs have to be some of my favorites out there. He’s easily understandable but it’s such a vicious shriek that it doesn’t seem to be coming from a human. He doubles over himself a couple of times on the disc, and the combination of his two screams creates something monstrous in its own right. Lyrically, things remain as gore-soaked as ever, and occasionally T-shirt slogan heavy. He’s very evocative with the images he portrays in between descriptions of esoteric philosophy and, yes, a battle inspired by the Protoss faction from the Starcraft games (let that nerd flag fly!), and I expect to see about a billion shirts with some variation of “You Are All Fucking Slaves!” written on the back of it.
The songs “Dante” and “Tyrant” go together excellently back to back and both are two of the greatest ones on the disc, if only for the heavy as hell intros. “Tyrant” we should’ve seen coming, since “Tyrant’s Throne” on Revenants also had a pummeling intro section, but “Dante” is a true crusher of a tune. Both go in different directions of course, but the first halves of both songs are the type that could leave you with whiplash if you’re not careful. Same goes for the groove that the band break out in “The Calm Before…”, which is an instrumental tune. It feels more like an extended intro for the song “Monster (Part III)” since it comprises a couple of grooves and some clean guitar playing; it doesn’t quite stand up as strongly on its own as the rest of the CD does, but it fits in well with the flow of the disc and does offer a relatively light reprieve if not for the ridiculous as hell Slayer-esque solo that closes out the song.
Conducting From The Grave is exactly the sort of disc this band needed to release. It shows that they can not only stay with their peers but also stay ahead of them, and play circles around them if need be. It’s a wonder that this disc was passed over, because it is brutality refined and cherry picks almost everything you want from the current metal scene, combining it all together under a -core heavy umbrella. Conducting From The Grave get intensely brutal at so many points throughout this self-titled release that listening to the whole thing just becomes a bludgeoning experience. It’s such a lightning fast romp of whirling guitars, monstrous drums, and grinding bass that on first pass you may not know what hit you as you get lost in the hurricane of sound. They make songs into a battleground, each one a fight to get your way through as the group wear you down, blast by blast and drill by drill.
The closing section of “Honor Guide Me!”, with that one last drill, pretty much defines the sort of brutality that Conducting dispense throughout the whole disc. It’s a pounding, piston-like, heavy creature of an album and it needs to be heard. It successfully pulls from everything they’ve done before (even having some segments like the opening to “Lycan” sound like it’s off their earliest demos before the full band kicks in – it’s a nice touch) as well as everything surrounding them to create a huge disc that sounds massive and is heavier than an ocean tanker dropped on top of you. The band have a huge opportunity by self-releasing this disc, and its release fulfills the promises the band laid out. If they can act upon it, they should finally be able to reach a great mass of people as opposed to being the unsung heroes that they’re always portrayed as being.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Conducting From the Grave will be officially released on October 1. This is a DIY release funded by a Kickstarter project; for those who haven’t already contributed through that effort, it can now be pre-ordered here. Visit the band on Facebook via this link, and catch one of the band’s album-release shows on the following dates:
10/4 Canoga Park, CA – Cobalt Cafe
10/5 Sacramento, CA – The Boardwalk
10/6 South Lake Tahoe, CA – The Classic Cue
Now here’s some music from the album — including a new track that just premiered today at Lambgoat (“The Rise”):