I am not what you could call a metal purist. While I can appreciate instrument mastery and a true command of the form, more often than not I seek pleasure on the weird and innovative side of the devil’s music. The more deviant, the better. Described on Metal Archives as Atmospheric Sludge/Drone/Post-Metal, Ottawa-based duo They Grieve had everything on paper to catch my attention and their debut full-length album To Which I Bore Witness did just that.
What a strange, moody and creative moment I’ve spent with these two guys.
The opener Wither starts with a haunting, cristalline electronic loop that gets absolutely obliterated by Gary Thibert’s fuzzy, gnarly and bare guitar riff, highlighting a contrast between a brittle vulnerability and a crushing weight that is essential to They Grieve’s music. This duality is also illustrated by the tension between Thibert and drummer Deniz Güvenç’s shrieks and that recurring loop that comes and goes as the song folds upon itself and builds back up.
They Grieve emphasize mood over pure technicality and have a self-destructive edge to their sound, but they are ruthlessly intense and precise. The duo is the definition of an acquired taste, but they are apparently a taste I’ve acquired. The following song Under the Weight starts with a sorrowful synth line and a reverb drenched guitar riff that puts forward a different type of melancholia before being attacked by Thibert’s hypersaturated guitar again, like a pro wrestling villain would do with a chair. How the elements of this song come off so cohesive in their complete lack of balance is beyond me, but it works! Oh, how beautifully it works. Under the Weight is jagged, unequal and sounds like a funeral dirge at times, but it never lets you settle for anything other than pure sonic and emotional conflict.
If Light Should Appear is one of the most dramatic songs on To Which I Bore Witness. Deniz Güvenç’s drumming gives it a depth and a texture that you don’t find in the first two songs. Gary Thibert’s dronier, more stretched out riffs give Güvenç breathing room to take command. A song about psychological confusion and loss of hope, it feels dislocated and disorienting enough to convey the lyrical themes through the music alone. It’s intense. Not in a particularly pleasant way, but They Grieve aren’t dealing with pleasant emotions.
The title song is more of a pure, melancholic sludge metal number in its structure and tone, which is fine by me. I find They Grieve more interesting when they dabble with electronic and experimental elements, but it does have a nice keyboard interlude that bridges both crushingly heavy parts of the song together. If any sludge purist is reading this, the title song of To Which I Bore Witness will give you a good idea of what to expect from these guys. Ear-splitting feedback, mountains of fuzz, anger, sorrow, sadness, it hits all the right beats and it’s played just slow enough to have an identity of its own. While it sounds less distinctive than other songs on the record, you will never mistake They Grieve for Eyehategod.
Guided is the only instrumental number on the record. It is also the only song on the record that would not quality as metal as it doesn’t feature any of its conventional instruments. Only a gorgeous, sorrowful piano and discreet strings that show up momentarily like the distant memory of a fleeting ray of light. Everything is filtered through a very thin layer of audio filth, which is meant to remind you that nothing is pure in this world and that even timeless beauty can be soiled by the hands of men. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and Thibert and Güvenç would like to explore a more experimental direction in the future, whether with They Grieve or on another project, I would definitely be interested. These two have a creative vision that is entirely their own.
The closer Weakness is an eight minutes-long scorcher and perhaps my favorite song alongside Under the Weight. The riffs are nastier and more dramatic. It comes undone and builds back up and ventures into unexpected directions more than once. Lyrics are not the band’s strong suit, but they are so minimal on Weakness that music carries the emotion. It has the necessary breathing room to be the emotional experience it deserves to be. My favorite part is almost six minutes in when the song basically ends, only to restart with Deniz Güvenç’s drums and a clean guitar riff before leaning into a colossal closer where Gary Thibert rages at his own weakness under a wall of screeching guitars. It has every element that makes They Grieve such a niche pleasure.
I haven’t talked about lyrical themes much because They Grieve are very minimal in their songwriting approach and it basically serves to emphasize the emotions carried in the music. You will get the point even if you never take the time to read them. Should they write more conventional lyrics on their next album? I don’t think so. Two or three lines works for them, especially that they’re willing to repeat them over and over on each song.
To Which I Bore Witness will not be everyone’s cup of tea. The production is deliberately fuzzy and abrasive. The songs are droning and meditative in the most self-destructive way they can be. It’s the kind of band you either “get” or don’t. This is also what I would call mood music. You don’t listen to They Grieve every day. You have to be in a particular mood to enjoy it, but I know that mood and I’ve felt these emotions and this blend of sludge, doom and post-metal with bold electronic elements carries them as well as they can be carried.