After two albums of tensely abrasive, home-recorded lo-fi sludge, Grave Babies has polished up its act and ventured into the studio to go prospecting for new ideas. Documenting that exploration, Holographic Violence sifts through various ’80s dark-wave styles in the hunt for worthy concepts, finding serviceable elements of goth-rock, post-punk, grunge, alt-metal, and industrial electronica. With too many pebbles left in the sonic pan, however, the band fails to stake a profitable claim in any one sound.
The record’s uniform theme—self-destructing humanity on the verge of collapse—provides a useful canvas on which the group stitches its genre experiments, but also makes inconsistencies all the more glaring. Taking a more airy, atmospheric approach than its pummeling predecessors, Holographic Violence strives for melodic melancholy, yet can’t resist breaking out the occasional bright, shimmery hook or synth flourish. Tracks such as “Something Awful” intrigue as plodding psych-pop, but when the jangling, angular Robert Smith-aping riffs kick in, it’s hard not to notice the identity crisis.
Not that Grave Babies are hiding anything: Grim opener “Eternal (On & On)” sets the stage for the churn of emotional confusion, blending a heavy, hypnotic shoegaze ambiance with a bleak Madchester rhythm. Using thickly processed, echoing vocal layering that ends up somewhere in the same ballpark as John Maus, frontman Danny Wahlfeldt wafts harmonies and glimmering guitars into the expansive aural terrain of “Positive Aggression,” only to moan like a choir of monks in a doomsday cult two tracks later in the droning, unstructured “Concrete Cell.” With such eclectic content, Holographic Violence certainly doesn’t fall short in ambition or inventiveness. Now that Grave Babies has surveyed the full range of shadowy throwback formats at its disposal, however, the band could stand to exercise a little focus.