Unholy Grave – Total Agathocles Review

A question, dear reader: You ever have a band or a record that, upon first listen (or second, third, tenth, or more), you don’t understand or “get,” or simply don’t like at all, but then later, for whatever variety of reasons, becomes one of your favorites? Time and place and the right emotion, my friend – those are important things. Who knows or cares the hows and whys of when a song or a record or a band finally settles in – all that matters is that it does, someday, one day, and you keep circling back every so often until it does.

Release date: July 8, 2022 Label: Self-released / Bandcamp.
And then a story: Like a large percentage of the world’s population, a few years ago, I found myself sitting around the house with quite a bit of unexpected spare time. So in the spirit of the hapless music fan that I am and will forever be, I decided to delve into the daunting catalogs of some bands I’d always undervalued and had long been meaning to investigate more deeply, particularly Japanese grind stalwarts Unholy Grave and Belgian mince-masters Agathocles.

And a bit of musical history: Both of those bands have been engaged in a three-decade-long carpet-bombing of raw noisy grinding, and in the interim, both have amassed a staggering amount of material. Both have an endless stream of splits punctuated by sporadic full-lengths, a handful of compilations, random live albums… In a genre generally known for an extensive amount of short and fast releases, these two bands are historically the reigning kings of prolificacy.

And an admission of personal mistake: Both of those bands’ lo-fi takes on grind had never quite “clicked” with me, for whatever reason, despite my love of the fast and ugly dating back to Napalm Death records thirty years ago. I don’t know why particularly – doesn’t matter now, anyway. But in 2020, faced with the seeming end of the world… well, I had the time and I had a place and I had plenty of emotions, and grindcore seemed the best way to work through it all. And then, for whatever variety of reasons, damned if both of those bands didn’t suddenly (and finally) hit me like a ton of heavily distorted bricks.

And then the resolution: In collecting whatever Unholy Grave and Agathocles releases I’ve been able to get my grubby hands on in the past two years, one of the most fun I’ve found is the one where the two bands’ catalogs intersect, 2003’s split album, the appropriately monikered Agathograve. This AG/UG master mash-up features each band covering material from the other, ten songs on either side, all raw and ugly and loud and fast and awesome. It would appear that a second Agathograve release was planned and never materialized somewhere around 2006, and now, 16 years later, Unholy Grave’s half of that unrealized split is here, once again entirely made up of Agathocles covers.

And then, finally, the goddamn review: In a word, at least this half of it is what we erudite music critics call “awesome.”

If you’re familiar with Takaho and company, and then also familiar with the work of Jan AG and his company, then you probably have a good idea what Total Agathocles sounds like already: It’s short, sweet, simple bursts of riffy noise, all of it distorted as all hell but with the vocals particularly so. Tee’s guitars are blunted razors; Yasu’s bass is a rusty bulldozer plowing ahead through the bombstrewn wasteland left by Kazu’s drums. But still, the focal point is Takaho’s vocals, alternating between low indistinct deathly grunts, a higher “growl” that’s more overdriven white noise than human, and that demented midrange almost-Jello-Biafra not-quite-clean tone that’s somewhere between a croon and the Emergency Broadcast System.

Unholy Grave is not for the audiophile, but for those who value spirit above all else, there’s no stopping them. From the minute those crashing chords open “Systemphobic” beneath Takaho’s maniacal giggling, Total Agathocles is one hell of a rollicking ride through seventeen minutes of pure mincing madness as performed by one of the greatest grindcore outfits in history. The band is tight, even as the recording is loose. Riffs and vocal hooks poke through the fuzz, but really, this is about pure and unbridled grinding energy, as all Unholy Grave seems to be. The raucous punk drive of “Labelisation,” the relentless pummel of “A Start At Least,” the blown-out wall of noise of “Go Fucking Nihilist”… It’s not for the faint of ear, but it is for the pure of heart, at least in terms of grind aficionados.

So in summation, Total Agathocles is Unholy Grave, for one. And as the title states, it’s Agathocles, for seconds. That should be enough for anyone.

And not to make this too much about me, but on a further personal note: There’s just about no doubt that, in the last two years, I’ve spent more time listening to Unholy Grave than to any other band. If I had that time to do over again, I’d spend it listening to more Unholy Grave, and to more Agathocles. It was worth every second.

So my advice to you, if you’re into the grind and you’ve read this far: Listen to more Unholy Grave, and to more Agathocles. Start here. Start wherever. And if it doesn’t hook you now, keep trying… and if you’re lucky, one day it will.

Posted by Andrew Edmunds

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; born in the cemetery, under the sign of the MOOOOOOON...

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