Grave Pilgrim:
Romancing the Blade

11/10/21 | J. Proust

Grave Pilgrim <i>Grave Pilgrim</i> art

Besides a single song released last year, the clandestine duo Grave Pilgrim virtually appeared out of nowhere this summer past with a self-titled full-length just teeming with unbelievable riffs. Talking more riffs than some countries’ entire scenes have managed to produce—lookin’ at you, Liechtenstein. From its first song to its last breath, Grave Pilgrim is a non-stop explosion of springy, tightly coiled riffs that once they’re released from the box, they’re not going back in. Instead they burrow into your brain, parasitically to live there forever.

Out now on cassette from the newly founded two-headed beast Death Prayer Records, Grave Pilgrim’s debut album simply stands in vision-warping contrast to the majority of the black metal you’ve heard throughout your life. It’s quite unreal. We reached out to the source and found TB, Grave Pilgrim’s vocalist and guitarist/bassist, more than willing to answer our inquiries.

First of all, how did Grave Pilgrim come together? Who are you two and how long have you been playing together? Tell us about how you came to form Grave Pilgrim.

CM and I grew up in proximity to each other but didn't really begin playing music together until 2018 after bonding over shared musical interests. Grave Pilgrim didn't begin in earnest until 2019 after I had written "Spear of Destiny" and brought it to the table with CM. As far as who we are we'd like to remain anonymous but we hail from the Willamette Valley in North Western Oregon.

What is a grave pilgrim and, in your view, how does the name capture the sound you two have conjured?

We chose the name because it had a cool old school heavy metal ring to it with a touch of americana, in the sense that we come from a nation founded by pilgrimage. The name takes on a new meaning in the title track off our album where it serves as a placeholder for a hero, iconoclast, or usurper.

Grave Pilgrim <i>Demo I</i> art

Many of your songs seem to be directly inspired by mid-'70s British rock. The myriad licks that festoon your sound like so many colorful banners all have this folksy, folkloric lilt to them. What delicious alchemy is this? What inspired this sound that seems to pull together such disparate influences? Was there a 'eureka!' moment?

That connection definitely wasn't deliberate on our part. I spent my early adolescence getting high and listening to Led Zeppelin. Ultimately, Jimmy Page was the guitar player who inspired me to pick up a guitar myself so there is probably an imprint of British rock in my style of guitar playing. However, the touchstone for our band was Peste Noire's early work. CM and I owe a creative debt to that band and named the first song, "Plague Commando," as an homage to this influence. Two riffs within that song were lifted from KPN and embellished for the sake of driving that point home. Overall we wanted a medieval folkloric sound that didn't get lost in the reeds of antiquity. In my own playing I have a great deal of admiration for the flamenco guitar style, especially their lead work, and at times try to add pieces of it into our music to varying degrees of success.

The 'eureka' moment came during various parts of the songs when blast beats made some of my more fanciful riffs sound pummeling. For example, most of "The Long Descent" wouldn't have been viable without the blasting in it to make the song move along and not get caught in too much noodling. As far as synth work goes I took a lot of inspiration from Departure Chandelier.

All of the songs are very riff-forward, and all of the riffs are simply astounding. What's the writing process for these songs like?

Thank you. This is kind of difficult to say. In a sense these are all channeled from a part of me that I don't quite understand. Since childhood I've been writing songs and they all come from a series of epiphanies that demand my attention and then are ordered after they're born. I know that playing grindcore in college really helped shape me as a songwriter in the sense that it gave me a good idea of when a riff got boring.

Once the guitar for each song is written I go through them with CM and he then works out the drum parts. These are usually hashed out together in a jam space. I can't really speak to his process but his style and sense of timing really complements things in an exciting way. Once this is done we have a 'song' that we practice a bunch until we're ready to record.

Then, during the recording process I generally write the bass parts, lyrics, and guitar leads in a similar manner. Lyrics are usually drawn up from reading material that resonated with me. For this release I was greatly influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche and Peter Sloterdijk.

Grave Pilgrim promo photo

What was the biggest challenge you two faced in getting this full-length out?

We struggled finding enough time for everything. We both have busy work schedules and family lives and finding time to record and write bass, guitar, synth parts, and lyrics was and is difficult.

There's desolation instead of information about you and your Bandcamp isn't much help. Where and when were these six tracks recorded? How did it go, recording Grave Pilgrim?

We recorded them in my basement. Drums in the summer of 2020 and everything else in the fall and winter of 2020 to 2021. It was definitely a learning process as this was the first album I'd recorded on my own, but in the end it was very rewarding.

Grave Pilgrim promo photo

Who is that, Melville, on your cover? What's meant by this austere simplicity for your cover?

That's a painting by Willem Drost titled Portrait of an Officer in Harness that was altered by a friend of mine in a stippling machine. We both appreciate the martial/aristocratic aesthetic it has and thought it complimented our music nicely. Melville would have been a good fit though.

"Thick as Thieves" is a personal favorite. What's this song all about? What guitarists were you channelling with these fiery licks?

This song is about a conspiracy to commit a bank robbery, it's execution and eventual failure. Like a lot of this album, this song is about the rebirth of the heroic figure in an age of decay and stagnation. Bank robbery was more prevalent when human beings were less surveilled and hectored. I sought to glorify its potency while simultaneously acknowledging its futility in our era.

Guitarist wise I was once again influenced by Peste Noire for the folky riffs in the beginning. For the heavier parts of the song I took a couple queues from Bolt Thrower, and for the last riff I tried to nod to Ennio Morricone western songs.

What about "Spear of Destiny?" Is this a song about Christianity?

Not in a traditional literal sense. The lyric the title is lifted from is, "Blood Caked on the Spear of Destiny." I sought to use this as a metaphor for an act that can't be undone and is long passed. This song is again about the rebirth of the heroic figure in the face of societal cannibalization, and is couched in the notion that the individual who arises above the "they" or the social body will be viewed as profane by the dominant modes of thinking and being. In that profanity lies power, fecundity, and potential for some kind of greatness.

The album closes eponymously with one of your strongest tracks. It's been one hell of a ride! What do you want people to take from the Grave Pilgrim album?

In the end we're flattered that people enjoy what we've been putting our willpower into. If we had a thematic message for the listener it would be to trust your instincts and don't submit your soul to mediocrity.

What's next for Grave Pilgrim?

We have a batch of songs we'd like to record in the coming months. Eventually we'd like to recruit more members to perform live but that may be a bit further off in the future.

Any closing sentiments or shout outs you'd like to extend?

I'd like to shout out A. Crossley who produced this album. He's a long time friend and a solid dude. For anyone interested in black metal in the vein of Agalloch check out his band, Liminal Shroud. I'd also like to thank all of those who make an effort to keep black metal a potent medium.

Grave Pilgrim's eponymous debut now out via Deathprayer Records.