Doom 101: The story of Grave Pleasures
Kvohst on the Beastmilk split and Grave Pleasures' doom-soaked debut, Dreamcrash
“Our background was the underground, avant-garde scene”, explains vocalist Mat 'Kvohst' McNerney. “So we’ve always been a little bit on the outside, and we were always surrounded by bands that were doing things differently. When it came to forming Beastmilk, we wanted to start an ‘anti-band’. We wanted to do things completely differently, which is why we initially made a demo cassette rather than a studio album.”
Formed in Helsinki, Finland in 2010, the self-styled apocalyptic post-punks rapidly became the talk of goth, punk, indie and metal circles worldwide. Their goal from the outset was to transcend musical boundaries.
They stuck to their guns, avoiding a full-length release for almost three years. But by the winter of 2013 the time had come, and Beastmilk unleashed their debut on the world. Prophetically titled Climax, the 10-song record was a percussive, reverb-led, doom-laden voyage into a post-apocalyptic world, and it garnered the Finnish four-piece favourable reviews across the board.
Yet in 2015, McNerney and Beastmilk bassist Valtteri Arino parted ways with their guitarist (Goatspeed) and drummer (Paile). The band had peaked. They made their artistic statement and they fucked off. And just like that, one of the most critically revered groups in recent years was over.
Or so we thought. In fact, the end of Beastmilk just meant the end of one chapter and the start of another. McNerney and Arino took on the name Grave Pleasures, and with the help of newly recruited guitarists Linnea Olsson (The Oath) and Juho Vanhanen (Oranssi Pazuzu), and drummer Uno Bruniusson (In Solitude) they embarked on a fresh musical adventure that promised to surpass the last.
“It’s a new start because it’s a fresh line-up with a new way of creating the music”, McNerney says of the new group. “It’s much more of a collaborative process this time as well. We wanted to start a proper band, instead of the Beastmilk vibe, which was to not have a band and not be together for any extended period of time. It was almost like Beastmilk was breaking up from the start.”
So what led to Beastmilk eventually calling it quits this year?
“It was the classic story of differences in opinion and direction on every level”, says McNerney. “It was a volatile creative relationship that had ran its course. All that was left after we made the record was friction. I think we called it a day at the right time.”
With the new Grave Pleasures line-up in place then, what can fans of Beastmilk can expect this time around?
“The musical influences are similar on a lot of levels”, the singer begins, “but there’s also a lot of new influences in there as well. We’ve been openly embracing a lot of different styles and genres, and it’s been a conscious decision on our part to do something different, and not just repeat the past.”
The debut album *Dreamcrash *came out via Columbia Music earlier this month, and was described in Classic Rock as a “one part love letter to 80s goth, one part heartfelt attempt to jump-start it for the 21st century”, and that hits the nail on the head. For whilst you can still hear the influence of vintage goth acts like Sisters of Mercy, The Mission and Echo & The Bunnymen in the mix, more modern-day pop sensibilities have been pushed to the forefront, thus making Dreamcrash an altogether more polished affair.
“I guess on first listen it can feel more polished”, replies McNerney, “but for us it’s also more raw. The guitars are much more upfront, instead of washed in reverb like on the last record. And we wanted the album to sound like it was created now, and like it was current. We also didn’t want to create the same album that we did with Climax. And we didn’t want to make another album where all the guitars went into one place. We wanted two guitars with very different roles to serve the storytelling of the songs. So we definitely approached the recording of the guitars in a totally different way this time around. Having one guitarist before, it felt more important to make the guitars feel like one whole piece, with the reverb almost as an instrument in itself. Now, with two guitarists, they’re free to be a bit more dominant in the mix. The guitars in Beastmilk were designed to be as minimal as possible to reduce the role of the musician in the band, but now the guitarists that we have working on the music are more connected with their instruments, because they’re better musicians.”
In regards to the record’s lyrical themes and content however, fans at the heavier end of the spectrum well be relieved to learn that Dreamcrash picks up exactly where the morbid musings of *Climax *ended. The impending apocalypse, it seems, is still very much where McNerney draws much of his inspiration.
“For me, I get a positive outcome from talking about those themes. Survival in itself is optimism. And exploring the whole concept of embracing your nihilism and addressing these apocalyptic themes is all about human connection and finding a sense of catharsis through the dark times. I feel like going through the darkest of times helps you get to know yourself a bit better, and get closer to life than you’ve ever been before. So for me it’s a positive and uplifting process. But I’m a very dark person. I sit down and listen to depressing music when I want to get through tough times. It’s different stokes for different folks, you know. But I believe that sometimes it takes a negative energy to get to a positive place.”
It’s this unwavering belief in the subject matter, and the strength of conviction in the music Grave Pleasures has created, that gives McNerney confidence in his latest project going forward. If there are any reservations regarding how the new album will be received, he’s certainly not letting on.
“You don’t release music without having some thoughts about the people that are going to be listening to it”, says the singer. “It’s obviously not your driving force, but it’s definitely something that you think about. But I think the reaction so far has been really good. There’s been some reactions from the opposite end of the spectrum as well, but that would’ve happened even if it was Beastmilk doing their second album because that would’ve been a completely different record, too. You’re always going to have people with different hopes and expectations, as that’s something that’s natural with any band going forward. We’ve taken a big majority of the Beastmilk fan base over with us, and of course that are people who are not with us, but they can still hold on to their Beastmilk past. They’ve still got the first album to treasure, and they don’t have to worry about the name of the band being diminished in their vision. And we’ve also got a lot of new fans that have discovered the band because of Uno’s past in In Solitude, or Linnea’s past in The Oath, or Juho’s past with Oranssi Pazuzu, and then just reaching a new audience with this new music. Ultimately, Beastmilk will be lesser known than Grave Pleasures in the end, just by default, because we have a bigger label and a wider reach for the music now.”
Grave Pleasures tour the UK from October 7. For more information, visit their official website.