I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about Empty Graves around the Quad Cities in recent months, which at first glance is a sentence that could seem far more nefarious than it is actually meant to be. While there have been recent stories featured in the local news in relation to graveyards/burial mounds and what may lie underneath, this article is focused on unearthing the breakdowns, and mosh-inducing riffs of a fast-rising Quad City Metal/Deathcore act and their new album, Virulent, which dropped on August 15th, both physically and across streaming platforms. Being around a wide variety of individuals in the local music scene, from players to producers, I expect to hear of groups that are putting their names on the map, and Empty Graves has come up in conversation enough to grab my attention. So when I was asked if I would be interested in reviewing their upcoming release I jumped at the chance to showcase a side of the QC music scene that was a fixture in my younger years.
There’s no hesitation in kicking off the album and opening track, Fear on My Mind gives a great taste of what is on the horizon. It showcases the band well, and while it is not my favorite track on the album, the quick-paced vocal sections paired with that synth tone are fantastic, and truly help this one stand out.
Devil Playing God comes in like an absolute assault, and while I took this album in via headphones, it sounds like a song that could easily blow out your speakers, and I mean that as a compliment. The occasional isolated double-kick hits did it for me with this one. I will also never tire of a sound clip making me laugh right before an aggressive section of the song comes in. It can be, and has been, overdone, but EG does it well.
Exhale, the third track on the album begins with chant-like vocals that are a nice shift from the assault that is Devil Playing God. This might be my favorite track on the album. It creates an atmosphere that had me imagining a video set in a cathedral. It feels like a song that could really fill the expanse of such a space. As much as I embrace the controlled chaos of the album’s first 2 tracks, the vocals that lead the intro (and outro) of this one hooked me right away.
“Devil Playing God comes in like an absolute assault”
Following Exhale we are given Trigger Warning, which somehow marries the intensity of opener Fear on My Mind with the gothic-like feel of Exhale. Gothic in the use of keys combined with some heavy sweeping guitars. I won’t pretend as if I am a scholar of this genre of music, but this song, and Exhale, definitely gave me vibes of The Devil Wears Prada, even if only briefly.
Song 6, Dog Pills, features a caterwauling layer of vocals set over a truly swaying rhythm. The chorus comes in with almost battling vocals and some quick fills that balance out the deep tones of Brock’s vocals. The break in this song caught me off guard, with a riff that almost stutters into a Zoolander clip that harkened back to the metal/hardcore songs from my youth, before completely hitting you over the head with a blazing solo and an ending that adds even more depth to an already wonderfully layered track. I understand why this was the lead single off Virulent. It’s a banger.
Arcane, the closing track, leads with classical-sounding instrumentation, and while it is not the main energy in the band, the calmer portions that are sprinkled throughout this album, especially with the intro/and short break late in this one, make me appreciate the heavy hits I know are just around the next fill/sound bite. I put a lot of weight on the closing tracks of albums, often more so than the openers, and I think the choice for both the start and finish of this one is spot on.
“A caterwauling layer of vocals set over a truly swaying rhythm.”
I could go on more about this album, as it had me going back midsong several times to make sure I heard what I had, but you should sit down with it yourself. There’s a good variety across these songs, and that’s one of the strongest points for me. I grew up with a lot of music similar to Empty Graves, and a lack of noticeable change between songs always had me checking out fast. That didn’t happen here. Make no mistake, this is a devastatingly heavy offering from the Illinois side of the QC, but it’s a fun one all the way through. You can check out the video for “Dog Pills” online, as well as their new album ‘Virulent’ streaming on all platforms.