Ah, the seventies–I don’t remember them well. Too much booze, too many mind-bending drugs. But one thing I was sure I remembered well were those occasions when my pal Billy Harrison would pay a visit to my should-have-been-condemned house in Shippensburg, which any sane human being would have fled the day the ceiling in the next room collapsed, dropping a one-ton wooden beam smack on my roommate’s bed.
What we would do, Billy and I, is place the speakers of my stereo on the sills of my open bedroom windows and crank the volume on Graveyard‘s Lights Out LP to 11—you know, to serenade the neighbors. Unfortunately one man’s ecstasy is another man’s earache, and our neighborhood concerts came to an abrupt end the day a police officer suddenly materialized through the billowing clouds of pot smoke that filled the room, like Satan appearing amidst fire and brimstone. The pot pipe flew in one direction, the baggy of dope in another, but we needn’t have bothered; not only did the cop let us walk, he didn’t even bother to seize our stash. Must have been a Graveyard fan.
There’s only one hitch in this fond recollection of mine: Graveyard weren’t there. They couldn’t have been. Hell, the boys in the band hadn’t even been born yet. But they soundlike they were there, which is what I love so much about Graveyard—they’re so retro they bring back memories I don’t even have.
Four long-hairs with cool Swedish ‘staches who are—in the words of Jethro Tull—living in the past, Graveyard play old-school hard rock and blues tinged with psychedelia and folk, making them the perfect band for people who prefer their music to sound like it came out in 1970. Graveyard may hail from Gothenburg, home of Swedish melodic death metal, but you’ll hear no cookie-monster vocals, heavily distorted guitars, or blast beat drumming from these guys, just the cacophonous echoes of such tarpit-bound dinosaurs as Blue Cheer, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath.
Graveyard—they’re Joakim Nilsson on guitar and vocals, Jonathan Larocca Ramm on guitar, Rikard Edlund on bass, and Axel Sjöberg on drums—formed in 2006 and released an eponymous debut album in 2008, but their real breakthrough occurred that same year at SXSW, where they blew minds as well as amps. Graveyard subsequently signed with Germany’s prestigious Nuclear Blast Records—under whose aegis they released 2011’s Hisingen Blues and 2012’s Lights Out—and presto, no longer did they have to subsist on that cheap Swedish staple, reindeer head boiled in beer. And in 2013 they achieved the apogee of all human aspirations when they—that’s right—helped create their very own brand of beer. (Motto: Hisingen Brew–Have two, and you’ll destroy the living room!)
While Graveyard have been lumped in with other throwback bands such as Sweden’s Witchcraft and Canada’s Priestess, they are in their own league, and I have two words to prove it: “Hisingen Blues.” Not only is “Hisingen Blues” the sweetest salute to Satan since The Mountain Goats’ “Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton,” it’s the best metal song I’ve heard in eons, period. A fast hearse to the Underworld with a zombified Boss Hogg behind the wheel, “Hisingen Blues” is about having a crush on Lucifer, or something: all I know for sure is that Nilsson wants to hold hands with the Prince of Darkness, and with music this cool Beelzebub would be a fool not to take him up on it. Hell, he’d be an idiot not to invite the guy out for candlelight dinner and a movie.
“Hisingen Blues” alone is enough to convince me that Graveyard are the real thing, but if I had any doubts, “Endless Night”—a baying hellhound of a song dogging your heels beneath the moonless Nordic night—is the iron nail in the old black coffin. As are the slab of barbaric crunge that is “Ain’t Fit to Live Here” and “Lost in Confusion,” with its bluesy vocal into and lyrics that bring to mind the hungover morning my sister—we attended the same college—pounded angrily on my door, then frog-marched me to the large pedestrian green in the middle of campus where my old man’s truck sat conspicuously by its lonesome, like Hitler at a bar mitzvah. What could I tell her? The night before it looked remarkably like a parking lot. Then there’s “Rss”—that’s Swedish for “Rss”—a whiplash blues with lyrics (“A tambourine and loads of beer / You don’t wanna be alone here”) protesting the dramatic uptick in tambourine-related violence in the Scandinavian nations.
Graveyard can play ’em fast, but they aren’t primarily speed merchants. Nilsson has said he actually prefers the slower numbers, and Graveyard boasts a hefty number of them, such as the wonderfully melodic “Slow Motion Countdown,” which has a suspiciously up-to-date sound that leads me to suspect Nilsson has been listening—it’s blasphemy, I know—to music actually recorded in this century. Then there’s “The Siren,” which highlights the unpublicized dangers of living in supposedly liberal Sweden (“I was captive on a slave boat / Rowing through the swamp / They threw me off / To the lake of alligators”). And let’s not forget the lugubrious “Blue Soul,” an eternal Scandinavian winter’s night of a song that should come with the phone number for a suicide prevention hot line.
On Saturday, January 26, I donned my fringed leather vest, grew a droopy Swedish mustache, and braved the elements—I suspect the frigid Scandanavian weather followed our Swedish friends to DC—to travel to the Black Cat to watch Graveyard. They announced their arrival with a loud siren, the introduction to the relatively straightforward (these guys love their lightning tempo changes) “An Industry of Murder.” The bass was turned up so high I could feel it through my feet at the back of the club, and Nilsson’s vocals were a thing of wonder—gruff as a rule, but capable of producing blistering screams that could singe the hair off a yeti. Next up came a pair of fast ones: “Hisingen Blues,” then the over-in-a-blink speed racer “Seven Seven,” which gradually increased in volume as it sped along, highlighting one of Graveyard’s major assets—its superb command of dynamics.
Next up was one another slow-burner and one of my night’s favorites, “Slow Motion Countdown,” which featured a haunting melody and really beautiful chorus (“When the flame turns blue / Not even you will see us through / Never let it loose / Don’t ever let it loose”). Graveyard then shifted back into overdrive with the drum-driven “Ain’t Fit to Live Here,” an ode to low self-esteem (“I got no friends / Only people that I know”) that boasted screaming vocals and some pummeling guitar riffs. It was followed by “Buying Truth,” a Foghat-style boogie that segued straight into “Granny and Davis,” which for a song about a granny sure was fast.
Graveyard slowed things down again with “Uncomfortably Numb,” a slow-burning fuse of a tune with a monster chorus featuring gargantuan guitar riffs and screaming vocals, all leading up to a closing guitar workout that sounded uncannily—you can add Lynyrd Skynyrd to Graveyard’s list of influences—like the axe attack that closes “Free Bird.” The band followed that up with “As the Years Pass, the Hours Bend,” a tremendously loud number featuring some truly brutal drumming and more mood shifts than your average PTSD sufferer, not to mention one far-freaking-out fuzz guitar solo.
Unfortunately, they then played the cornball “Hard Times Lovin’,” a lamentable cliche of a love song that sounded like the B-side of a Bad Company single that flopped. Getting through it was a traumatic experience, much like the time I took acid, got paranoid, locked myself in the casket-sized bathroom of a pig farmer pal’s doublewide trailer, then couldn’t figure out how to get back out. Lucky for me, Graveyard went on to open the bathroom door with “Thin Line,” another frequent tempo-shifter featuring some cool retro-rock guitar figures that sounded like they’d just time-traveled to the Black Cat from a Cream recording studio back in 1968, a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am guitar solo, and a brief foray into speedmetal. Graveyard then closed their set with “Goliath,” a speed merchant’s dream without any speed-bump tempo changes featuring a blazing guitar solo and an angry chorus (“They are trying to sell / Slavery as a dream to chase / Driven by fears, consumer words / No way to see their hoax.”)
Returning for an encore, Graveyard played crowd-pleaser “The Siren,” which featured more abrupt head-to-the-windshield stops and starts than a teen behind the wheel for the first time, some vocals that bordered on the supernatural, and a fuzz guitar solo designed to cause heads to explode. They then moved on to “Endless Night,” which opened with some barbaric power chords, abruptly stopped, then blasted off into Mach I territory. Graveyard finally concluded the evening with “Evil Ways,” which began with a hippie-friendly prog guitar figure, segued into some pile-driver power chords, then came to a fitting end with a truly malevolent fuzz guitar solo.
What can I say? Some people go to Heaven, some people go to Hell, and some people go to see Graveyard, where they get a little of both. I only wish my old running buddy Billy Harrison, who passed away a while back and is most certainly speeding down some country road in Hell with Satan riding shotgun, had been there to see them. Hell, in a perfect world Billy would still be around. And what we would do, Billy and I, is place the speakers of my stereo on the sills of my open bedroom windows and crank the volume on Graveyard’s Lights Out LP to 11—you know, to serenade the neighbors.
Photos: Richie Downs