Having already dove deep into the lyrical themes of Gravemind‘s Conduit in my interview with vocalist Dylan Gillies-Parsons, I was keen to review it ‘by feel’; let the music itself speak more than work overtime to gain understanding.
Conduit begins with “The Effigy”, where operatic echoes and clanks pave a way for a growing sense of discomfort. The listener is then blasted with riffs that feel like pieces trying to fit together, with a sense of rising and building. Aflame, the instrumental collisions and vocal warping of “The Effigy” hits with a ‘here we are’ sense of arrival. It’s an album opening that lands with curiosity and strength.
Second track “Reveal” takes the same warped vocals and immediately feels tense under the grips of another. Uneasy yet beautiful, the fiery song has a fluid undercurrent that’s intriguing to follow while all hell continues to break loose otherwise. Riffs and rhythms rain down in an unpredictable way and it feels like a case of not knowing where to look, with no idea where to direct your attention. The line “Unshackle this guilt” strikes like a leaden foot of refusal, and razor wire tendrils spread like vines looking for purpose.
It’s as if the song takes a breath to reveal a solemn wish to be shrugged off the rotting corpse of reality. Stepping further and further into unfiltered honesty, a spoken word section of “Reveal” asserts a fear that comes from not finding that purpose, while also not necessarily wanting to die. The riffs feel (surprisingly) like warm waves then, and as hectic and wild as it is, it’s an enjoyable ride.
Getting ever choppier, this ride becomes like a dream where you’re drowning in an ocean one moment and then find yourself somewhere completely different in an instant. Dropped onto a steep mountain face, with dirt under fingernails, we’re clawing at patches of grass in desperation to make it to the top. “But what if we were wrong” is a punch of doubt to the head and with ears virtually ringing, I feel woken up from the dream entirely. As a song, it’s a breathtaking experience.
Hectic as hell, the dream has become a nightmare in the form of “Volgin”. Breathless fear and fury pushes this rhythmically stuttering paranoid space of one checking over their shoulder with every move. In amongst the tank-like heaviness from every other facet, lighter guitar accents like on “Is it just me out here?” are a treat. Blunt and steady at times, searing and electric at others, “Volgin” brings punishing drums and driving pace. It’s an undeniably incredible track and feels amazing to fall down into its sonic rabbit hole of twists and turns.
“Volgin” drops the listener in an opening momentarily; more sweetly melodic, with questions and compassion rippling outward. Hurt is reflected by searing guitar, and heavy beats offer a reminder nudge of ‘It won’t stay this sedate for long’.
Beyond the outer shell of what is a great heavy song, there’s a moving sentiment of facing the fire of someone’s pain on their behalf, and finding connection in the confusion. The ending of “Volgin” sparks cascades of goosebumps for me, with an unexplained sense of satisfaction to it, or something else that I can’t quite put my finger on. Full, soaring and satisfying, it stands strong and open and searches for another to stand in the fire alongside them. This feels like the embodiment of courage to me and ends fucking grandly and defiantly and burning brightly as fuck.
“Vox Populi” is full of eerie character with its wavering/twanging melody alongside larger-than-life guitar. I find myself getting down and dirty with this track, sinking into its rhythms and its easy pace, while also taking in its full-bodied assertion of experience. An invisible alarm seems to be triggered and “Vox Populi” hits peak tension and climbs sharply. I’m all “Fuck yes!” taking in this spiraling and rising story via guitar and the growing anxiousness along with it.
The track comes across angrier and angrier, spitting toward participants of ‘cancel culture’ who have no thought or care for those they’ve put to trial without any evidence or knowledge at all. Shifting more internally, “Vox Populi”‘s circular riffs draw downward, with Dylan lyrically hunting for an escape hatch from the toxic world he’s witnessing. Expansive, suspended, and distant, eyes look to the horizon and he careens slow motion (Thelma and Louise style) off the edge into someplace else.
But the battle isn’t done, and vicious views and jarring stances are deftly reflected by a dissonant patch. Satisfyingly, multiple layers of voice combine in a call for dreaming that honours the soul instead of attacks another. Maybe we can cancel ‘cancel culture’ too.
“You aren’t having these thoughts,
these thoughts are having you.”
“Hard Rain” is dark and heart-heavy from its outset, with looming tones and guitar noise that seem to both grow and fill the space. Though I lyrically hadn’t understood the inspiration behind this one at the time I’d first heard it, now that I’m focusing more musically, I just feel sad. By way of hard rain in weather terms, it matches a heavy defeat that this 3/4 timing of a tune brings, audibly reflecting the “weight of the world on my shoulders” that’s expressed vocally.
With a fleeting moment to breathe and hope to feel okay with another, it’s then a return to heavy punches that pummel the listener and shake them from side to side. It feels amazing to have hope show up so clearly with the arrival of light melodies in amongst really lush heaviness.
Sadness hits its peak in “Hard Rain” with the imagery and emotion of “The rope has frayed / We can’t both be saved”, the ache from the guitar, and just the thought alone of someone who’s struggling feeling bad that they can’t help another. One breath, one step at a time, the painstaking effort to keep going is just hitting me hard. And there’s the arrival of that hope melody again; light like fireflies yet with limbs too heavy to try and grasp them. I find myself unable to not cry, so I just let it out and become swept into the robotic effort of go-through-the-motions disconnect and soak in the question of whether this is going to eventually good or is just truly truly bad.
Even just five tracks in of Conduit so far, it’s impressive to me how much has been transmitted emotionally in each of these songs.
It’s really unfair for my feelings (but also well thought out) to have “Hard Rain” flow into “Phantom Pain”, marrying up the heavy sadness of the former with the revelations of the latter – and how those two things probably interlink. In the static and shadows, machinations prowl, and I’m uncertain if they’re real monsters or just memories that are causing the thumps and skin-crawling. It’s unsettling nonetheless.
When the vocals kick in on “Phantom Pain”, it’s akin to a door being flung open wide, a blast of heart and pain and hurt, with an instrumental army standing strong. Despite the dark subject matter of absence and disconnect, the pace and vocal rhythms are a delight and it’s flawless to me and my ears, even when it lands in a heap of musical angles and a scream of “You’re a disgrace”. The song is brutal and holds nothing back, with riffs acting like flaming swords ruthlessly cutting through cords of familial connection. The assurance of “I’m doing just fine” is believable as fuck, in amongst the sheets of hatred.
The thread of “Phantom Pain”‘s parental care is followed and turned to the self for a moment, and I don’t really have words for the spoken word section of this song; how plainly and courageously it speaks for itself with honesty, with Dylan placing himself into shoes of a parent. Each percussive strike hits this home to the heart, and an eerie melody just has me feel like ‘This shouldn’t even be a discussion, this thought process that’s inspired by violence. This shouldn’t even be happening”. It’s rough going to say the least. Yet every return to the chorus feels triumphant and confident and forward-facing, rising up from the past. In the aftermath of this blast of honesty, the final seconds take on the feeling of an unsettling shock, of what has just happened, and maybe what has been lived through.
“Reading; Steiner” is beautiful, orchestral even, though composed with metal instruments – if that even makes sense. My focus on this is more musically than lyrically so far, and I find that the lyrics/vocals don’t carry as much for me as the others have. It’s a farewell, a dedication, and a desire to hold firmly on to another. As the song hits blackened heights vocally, it comes across as a fierce attempt to retain a grip on life when tragedy strikes. But I definitely felt less impacted from this than other tracks. I wonder if Steins;Gate fans would see it very differently.
Dylan describes “Zero-Point Energy” as amping him up, and I feel it too; this drawing of energy within that would take out anyone that dared challenged us. And the ‘us’ here are those who create or follow their passions in any way that is different from the expected 9-to-5 white collar career ambitions. Again like “Reveal”, I find myself enjoying the smooth undercurrent of sound on this track, in amongst the driven rallying assertions to make life your own instead of following the pack.
Multilayered and full, slips into spoken vocal delivery feel like they are shaking off the confines of singing/screaming the lines. It’s as if this genuinely means so much and the drive to be heard and understood is felt more than anything else. With a nod back to the smoothness of tones running through the track along with the heaviness, it has me feel the fire and escapism that comes from diving into a work of passion. Hear and understand “We are here to take it all” in all of its urgency and possibility. As the clock of mortality continues to tick, it’s clear a choice is needed now, and the ridiculous breakdown and its electronic static seems perfectly fit as an ultimatum to wake up and spark something new. Now. Not when you’re 65.
“Hollow” is alarming and off-kilter from the start, with thick clouds of metallic oppression hard to breathe through. Downward guitar slides while the alarm persists couple with “How long until we collapse?”, making for an atmosphere that is thick with fear and futility. As Dylan’s voice hits impossible heights and sharpness, the weight of mortality (similar to the previous track) comes across musically, and the inescapable grips of normalcy threaten to take him over like a virus made of fire; something that he violently rejects. The pressure of conformity is felt by the downward movement of the guitars and bending riffs.
Surprisingly softening, the message of silent obligation to conform is fittingly creepy to what’s felt by the protagonist; how people assume the programming they’re under without questioning it. That pressure of conformity hits breaking point with a mammoth breakdown and reality shattering scream. Traction created by guitar and rhythms chip away the illusion of needing to comply.
But the lower the song heads, along with the return of the alarm, it feels like “Hollow” follows the path not into new territory, but sees it through to the expected end – of working oneself into the ground, with no new self-view. The repeated and breathless “let go” and the arrival of a gentle melody has me feel like it could either be an eerily morbid defeat into nothingness, or a surrender to one’s bliss.
“You know and I know this only ends one way”
With the following song beginning with the opening line of “As I leave the old world behind”, I feel like it’s the latter. Goddamn I love clearly audible bass and how this song feels like it has breathing room enough to spread one’s wings. This makes “Embrace” incredibly satisfying after the rest of the album’s oppression. But fire and intensity is still just as home here, to the extreme even. As the track soars higher and higher and the atmosphere grows, it comes with a game-changing sense of growth versus being stuck in fight or struggle.
Rallying again, a melody lifts above it all and the bass and drums together feel like a revolution that collects momentum and strength. Having the line “Give in, just let go, this is for you to know / The power of the universe in you” with this is a lung-filling moment of inspiration.
“Now live the life that you can dream”
Ending on “The Entropy” (seeming like a nice titular pigeon pair with “The Effigy”), it’s the dose of sonic reality after the empowerment of “Embrace”. Gritty and dark, it’s a bombardment from all angles and a hefty slice of defeat. Busy and shoving, the listener is in choppy seas and flailing to keep their head above water while skilled instrumentation deftly takes control. But there’s nothing here that feels overdone or messy, even in its most chaotic.
Raw desperation comes with erratic rhythmic flares and a sense of drastic sinking, feeling truly hopeless before we arrive at a melodic moment of clarity: “All things have to end”. There’s moments of instrumental wow here; something that’s happened the entire way through, having the entire Conduit be a pleasure to soak up. There’s nothing predictable or ‘samey’ about any of this.
I love that “The Entropy”‘s “All things have to end” feels both like acceptance and sadness in a way. And when 3:43 kicks me in the chest, I am emotional putty in Gravemind’s choice of notes and melody through to the dream-like melody of Conduit‘s end. Amazing.
I knew it from when I saw Gravemind in action in a live setting that this is a band that masters their craft. Conduit is a perfect example of this mastery, literally revealing the importance of music to this band. The album feels like a complete collection to represent Gravemind and their incredible capabilities, not to mention their heart and soul. I feel like the album will be ‘one of those’ that stands strong over time.
Musically brilliant, showing incredible attention to detail. Each song is its own world, yet threads between them have the album feel whole and cohesive. There's nothing here that feels like filler or 'just because', and I love that. Gravemind live and breathe music, and this album is a tribute to that.