Having been active all the way back in the early 90s, Graveyard Dirt quickly disappeared, leaving only a single demo consigned to the lusting pursuit of salivating doom fiends. In something of a small miracle, the band resurfaced in 2007 with the excellent Shadows Of Old Ghosts EP. Time and turmoil having long since made a right curmudgeon of me, I assumed we might never hear from the band again, and yet here we are, just a few years later, with a finally- (and finely-)realized debut album from this veteran act. Be still, my doom-tremored heart.
Though Graveyard Dirt occasionally flirts with the terminally-wrenching funeral doom of Evoken (see the album’s sky-cracking opening of “Daylight’s Wrath”), For Grace Or Damnation pledges out-and-out fealty to the regal kingdom of classy doom/death: My Dying Bride, fellow countrymen Mourning Beloveth, Swallow the Sun, Morgion, Paradise Lost et al., though always keeping well to the less gothic and self-consciously mopey side of things than any of the early Peaceville Three. A particularly apposite comparison might be My Dying Bride circa The Dreadful Hours, but Graveyard Dirt boasts a much less pristine sound than any of the aforementioned bands – there’s a lip-smackingly gritty buzz to the guitars, and even the clean melodic lines resonate more thickly than clean tones usually do.
Each song is expertly built around big, fat riffs that know how to dig in their heels and slug it out for the long haul; riffs for digging trenches and plowing fields and damming rivers. Graveyard Dirt can metal it up with the best of them, whether it’s Paul Leyden’s paint-stripping exhortations or the double-bass pounding midway through “Enslaved By Grief.” The real draw, however, is ever and always the perfectly gorgeous clean guitar leads scattered liberally across the album, most often leading the rest of the band in a mournful charge into some presumably fatalistic oblivion. Special mention must go to “These Hands Defiled,” which is a massively emotional gut-punch of a song, with Leyden’s uneasily-pitched bellowing reminiscent of a cleansed-of-most-Hetfield-isms Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost. The drawn-out dual guitar melancholy takes its time squeezing your lungs to a wheezing pulp before nonchalantly breaking into a wondrous solo section.
Still, style only gets one so far. The general sound is easy enough to wrap one’s head around, but Graveyard Dirt has the consummately professional touch to provide enough variation both within songs and between songs to keep this hour-plus album from ever dipping into tedium. Watch the piano and keys that adorn “Search for Solitude” as they carefully walk the guitars around the corners of the song’s measures, like a nursing staff pacing the soft-shoed long corridors. Another great solo graces the end of the song, before a serpentine bass-led coda again smashes through the gates of melancholy, and approaches grace. The relatively brief clean guitar interlude of “Solace” effectively clears the mind before the crushing punishment of the album’s longest track, closer “New Day’s Fire.” The tune unfortunately drags a bit, but the sparse quiet section which then leads into the ultimate (and inevitable) dual-guitar-drenched conclusion is a real gloomy triumph.
Throughout For Grace Or Damnation, Graveyard Dirt demonstrates that apparently unique Irish ability to pen songs that call to mind widescreen cinematic images of lone trees standing barely upright against the keen and squall of pounding coastal rains, overlooking the torrid ocean from a lightning-streaked craggy bluff. These songs put the cool sting of brine in your mouth, and the centering pull of damp earth in your hands. The aching swoon of interwoven guitar lines is like pulling on a warm blanket, such is the comfort and familiarity of these themes. For Grace Or Damnation is less about revolutionizing this particular style of doom than it is about honing it to fine-point perfection. And is it ever fine…