It used to be that the most celebrated modern metal classics were more along the lines of thrash or maybe punk influenced death (think Sepultura’s Arise or Possessed’s Seven Churches. While crust, sludge and doom records have always had an important place in metal, it is only in the days of the interwebs that bands like Eyehategod or Mastodon have managed to be as prominently discussed among critics as some of the more ‘commercial’ heavy rock shoved down people’s throats (think Five Finger Donkey Punch). Some of this is due to the persistence of bands and fans to get real music out there while technology and changing industry models also play a factor.
Underground tape trading, zines, vinyl and the Dischord records style sense of bands working together has come back pretty strong amongst the non delusional out there who actually want to figure out a way to survive in the current climate, at least breaking even for the next tour if not always making a profit. While some extreme bands like Slaves BC are utilizing technology via Twitter to build up good relationships with writers, labels and insiders who make up a lot of the bone structure of the underground, other bands are still pandering to labels expecting a dream pay out. Really these days you have to almost believe in a blend of guerilla warfare style inventiveness and have a Mad Max determination to survive no matter how rough it gets out there.
Graves at Sea have been around for over a decade and sound like they have spent most of it surviving a prolonged bar fight with the actual sea in their band name. On the spectrum of active bands, they fall along the line of determined yet problem addled underdogs who have managed to deal with a lot of personal issues and line up changes but still somehow survived to this next big step point of their careers.
Think Buzzoven style vocal vomit meets some of the slowest yet meaty and churning aggressive riffs married to a pessimistic feeling of inevitable collapse and you catch the drift. But in the meantime you might as well try and get some cool scars or try and stand on your feet as long as possible amidst the hail and tornado winds of the fall of humanity. Or bunker down with John Goodman and as much beer as you can loot from the grocery store before you slam and bolt the door.
Pairing with esteemed death metal championing trench fighters turned big success story Relapse Records, Graves at Sea have finally stepped out of the splits and EPs only part of their career and managed to make a monster album with The Curse That Is, unbelievably their first proper and well worth the wait full-length debut. From the art to the pounding songs that hit like lurching waves while still provoking thought, you’ll be either peeing in jars and gibbering like DiCaprio in The Aviator by the end or satisfied and exhausted after a strong serving of slightly classic rock influenced doom and roll that fans of Alabama Thunderpussy, Sourvein (who they have done an EP with) or High on Fire will eat up like broken glass and gummy bears.
“Waco 177” is the absolute winner here, as ugly as it gets. The bass alone sounds like edifices and illusions crumbling while society burns. It makes you want to listen to Ministry to cheer up, it is so bleak.
The songs are really allowed a chance to breathe as far as duration goes, even as they eventually suffocate with utterly heavy abandon. “Tempest” is the split the difference song, a still seven-minute-long beast that would be a good one for them to push to the public. “Dead Eyes” is reminiscent of Crowbar and Eyehategod with thunderous drums and whiskey and heroin in a rowboat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean parts where every dark and meandering guitar riff adds to the coiled sense of dread in the pit of your stomach. Big riffs slide around relentlessly yet find a unison in the whole, kind of like in the work of that band Mars from New Orleans who I’m not sure still exist.
This is not to imply there isn’t diversity on the record. “The Ashes Made Her Beautiful” brings strings and almost gothic quiet to the record and while not as mind blowing as the new Wolvserpent or the Visit chamber influenced stuff, the opening few quiet minutes of a 15-minute epic helps to break up the overall endurance test of otherwise bloodied but unbowed riff soldiering. It is also a memorial piece for a band member’s dog and that is pretty wonderful. Converge did a similar thing about a family dog recently and it’s cool that some tough metal dudes care about nature and their loyal furry friends.
Most bands this many years into their career would be dodging the “sophomore slump” or be on a third or even fourth album, but in this case Graves at Sea are taking the feeling of having been cursed with some bad luck and making the most of it to deliver The Curse That Is, oddly both an overdue and initial album victory lap.
Get on board and hold fast.