(Wil Cifer reviews the new album by Graves At Sea from Portland, Oregon.)
After a few splits and an EP, these guys are pulling the trigger on the full-length I have been dying to sink my doom-hungry jaws into. The nastiness they teased us with on previous releases has been filtered through a bigger production value for their debut full-length. The band still thunders into your ears, with some of the evil abrasion that coated their work now snarling at you like crystal-meth-infused stoner rock. Sometimes this even borders on the post- apocalyptic sludge of Through Silver and Blood-era Neurosis.
The vocals are the band’s meanest quality, packing ample grit into each scream. The guitar has warmed up a bit. Perhaps it is the time they took in the studio to perfect their tone versus the raw, angrier sound of previous releases. With each listen I began to appreciate the expanded musical qualities invested into the songs here; it just takes a little getting used-to.
They slow down enough on “Dead Eyes” to return to somewhat more doom-oriented sound. The lyrics are more intelligible here, even with their most scorned and rancid throat-scraping rasps calling out some very memorable choruses. That is what song-writing is about.
No matter how heavy you want to be, something has to bring you back to the songs over and over again. The riffs dance with a happy-go-lucky arena-rock vibe, preventing the influence of classic metal from being denied even with the shadows cast by Alex Carson’s violin.
The crazed vocals carry a higher rasp on “Tempest”. This song attacks with the swampy fury of Eyehategod. The violin returns to accompany the clean guitar that opens the fifteen-minute sprawl that is “Ashes Made Her Beautiful”. It lurches into the deliberate pound of the verse, offering up some bong-boiling worship to the path Sabbath paved. In sections, this finds the band at their most melodic. The violin earns its place on the album when the song reaches the six-minute mark. Here the band digs down into an empty grave coming close to the brand of dismal doom that won me over on their This Place is Poison EP.
“This Mental Sentence” has a rock ‘n’ roll swagger to it. They get back to down-and-dirty basics on “Waco 177”. It’s the kind of heavy metal depravity you expect from the band, lyrically paying homage to the fall of David Koresh. Serial killers tend to get way more love from metal bands than cult leaders, so it’s a nice change of pace.
“Luna Lupus Venator” is an acoustic instrumental interlude leading into the last song, “Minimum Slave”, which even with the fourteen-minute run time never feels like it’s dragging. It pounds at you with burly stoner-metal grooves recalling Tool or Kyuss, while the vocals keep these guys more firmly placed in the metal camp.
It might be an exaggeration to say the band jams out these songs, but they do ride out the grooves and allow the guitar parts to wind around the songs. In the end, they do give you enough of a payoff with crushing, molten, lava-filled stomp.
Times have changed for these guys, as this album could very well ready them for a larger audience, but it’s done very tastefully and I find myself going back for further listens.