Griffar
Monastery

France’s Griffar started out as a pagan black metal band; their 2000 release Of Witches and Celts featured lengthy, highly melodic compositions and a buzzy, wall-of-sound approach. After a few aborted attempts to return over the last decade, they’ve finally reformed with an updated and more muscular sound. Griffar now sounds like late 90s melodic black contemporaries Dissection, Naglfar and Dawn, but crossbred with mean, ripping thrash – at least in the best parts of the album.

Monastery starts off with three impressive numbers that really showcase this new approach. “Blessed in Lava” is all slicing riffs, double-bass thunder and snarled vocals before transitioning into back-to-back Slayer riffs, which could have come straight off South of Heaven or Hell Awaits. Awesome. The next few minutes churn past with even more riff and tempo change-ups, climaxing in a slow and majestic burn underscored by chiming acoustic guitars. It’s an epic and ambitious track, and a great contrast with the pounding thrash gallop of “Monastery,” which is just flat-out speed and murder, and its follow-up, “Relentless Infamy,” which blazes past with a series of sharp, evolving riffs and tempos that shift on a razor’s edge.

After that, Monastery lags for a couple of songs. Not a cardinal sin, but as each is around 7-8 minutes, it does drag the album down a bit. “The Demented God” starts as a mid-tempo lope, which is a good change-up from the previous two tracks. However, when it speeds up, it sounds more like typical melodic black metal from the late ’90s, with no thrash elements at all. Solidly crafted and performed, but way too deja vu. “My Wolf Legacy” fares a little better, in that it’s punctuated by machine-gun bursts of chug and double-bass, and features a brief moment of grand and crawling melody with some neoclassical soloing. It seems as if this track was meant to be another multi-part stunner like “Blessed in Lava,” but it too feels overly familiar without the added thrash elements to break things up.

Luckily, things perk up after that. “Tale of the Navigator” is fast and relentless, and although it too starts on a familiar note, the chuggy thrash riffs that come in halfway wake me up again. After a short, pleasant interlude (“Diabolical Kingdoms”; shades of early Old Man’s Child), the two closers bring back the epic, dynamic attack I was so impressed by in the first few tracks. “Rebirth” doesn’t really feature much thrash, but it’s quite varied compared to some of the mid-album tracks. “Last World” strikes with another thrash/black gallop followed by a classic ’80s headbanging rhythm that will make you instinctively throw your horns in the air. Both songs also feature a memorable mix of medieval acoustics and neoclassical soloing, which are also a nice change-up from some of the Oriental melodies at the start of the album.

Griffar’s got a case of the Rip Van Winkles, in that they went dormant just when the melodic black metal sound was peaking, and now, more than a decade later, they’ve woken up and mostly resumed that same sound. Mostly, I say, because it’s that hybrid thrash element that really makes this album stand out. And sure, combining black metal and thrash is far, far from new, but it’s usually blackened thrash, and not thrashy black metal. (Did you get peanut butter on your chocolate or chocolate in your peanut butter?) I much prefer this approach, and hope they further refine it on the next album. When Griffar really gets going, their Sacramentum-meets-Slayer sound will make you forget you’ve ever heard of Skeletonwitch.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
February 21st, 2012

Comments

  1. Commented by: Odovacar

    Great write-up. I’ll definitely have to check this album out, sounds right up my alley.


  2. Commented by: Grimulfr

    Nice review and I agree except I also like the deja vu moments. I’m glad they are back.


  3. Commented by: elguerosinfe

    Nice review…neighbor.


  4. Commented by: gabaghoul

    stop stalking me


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