(Indianapolis-based Mother of Graves are fast approaching the release date set by Wise Blood Records for their powerful debut album Where the Shadows Adorn, and thus the time was right for Comrade Aleks to interview members of the band, resulting in the discussion we present here.)
There aren’t many melodic death-doom bands who have gained real recognition. Swallow the Sun from Finland, Daylight Dies from the States, and October Tide from Sweden are the bigger and most influential bands in this list, though it’s easy to find many more names in different countries. Maybe it’s the “doom” tag which scares potential listeners, even though the genre is quite friendly, even for newcomers: The songs’ tempos usually vary from mid to high, soaring melodies ignite your melancholy, and expressive raging vocals are harsh usually and yet appealing in some way.
However it’s always cool to learn about new bands who are able to strike you down with their very first album. Mother of Graves from Indianapolis does it without visible strenuous effort as their forthcoming debut album Where the Shadows Adorn combines the spirit of old school melodic death-doom and epic modern production. This release is scheduled for the 14th of October, so there’s time to prepare yourself for it while reading the interview with Chris Morrison (guitars), Brandon Howe (vocals), and Corey Clark (bass).
Hi gents! Let’s start from the very beginning: Mother of Graves was started three years ago by ex-members of the bands Harakiri and Summon the Destroyer. I simplify that, but these two bands are a common ground uniting five of you. So how did you manage to gather in the name of melodic death-doom after all?
Brandon: We’ve all known each other for quite a while, or at least known of each other in some way, shape, or form. Indianapolis is a pretty small community for extreme metal. Mostly everyone knows everyone. I played in Summon with both Corey and Don for upwards of a decade, and they’ve been close friends of mine since. I met and knew Chris and Ben just through association in the local metal scene here. Chris and Don played together in Bulletwolf for years, in which they tragically lost their friend and bandmate. That was pretty much the inception of Mother of Graves.
Chris had a bunch of ideas flowing in a melancholic vein and linked up with Ben to further those ideas. I’m pretty sure it started as just a studio project, more or less, with unclear future intentions. I remember hearing the initial demo they put out with their former vocalist, and thought to myself, “holy shit, there’s nothing like this at all around here,” and thought it was excellent. I kept a close eye on them. Chris had messaged me after the vocal position opened up, and of course, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity.
This kind of music has been something I’ve always wanted to do and have just never been able to. Here we are now with two releases under our belt, a couple of solid live shows (yes, only two so far), and a solid lineup of heavy hitters. At this point, we’re getting stronger and stronger by the day.
Chris: Well Indy has a tight-knit scene for the most part. I played with Ben in Harakiri for many years, and we have been friends for longer. He is a very talented songwriter and recording engineer, so when I was working on the original batch of songs by myself (before the band was officially formed) I had asked him to help me finish up what I had started as I knew I needed an extra ear on things. He was immediately my go-to for that.
Don played drums in a band with TJ (original MoG bassist) and I for years until our friend and vocalist of that band passed away. We knew we wanted to do something else together at some point. It just so happens Don also played with Summon the Destroyer. When we needed a vocalist, Brandon was just the person we wanted to get and it so happened we knew him from Summon the Destroyer and other bands. Then when TJ decided to leave the band, we auditioned a number of bassists. Again it just so happened that the best fit was our friend Corey, who just happened to be in a band with Don and Brandon. Incestuous scene here in Indy I suppose?
As far as the style, that was just the direction it took when I started writing new songs by myself in late 2016. It took a while for the idea to form the actual band after that.
The main American band playing that sort of doom is Daylight Dies (if they plan to return back to life). Which bands formed your vision of things you wanted to do with Mother of Graves? Besides Katatonia.
Chris: I’d say Tiamat, the first couple Anathema albums, Edge of Sanity, Paradise Lost, Mindrot, My Dying Bride, and stuff like that. Besides Katatonia, those were the main bands I was listening to when starting this thing; however, there are other influences that may be more subtle, less obvious, and only coming from my end in the band. Bands like Sunny Day Real Estate and this old local kind of melodic hardcore band, Split Lip, have these guitar melodies and arpeggiated riffs that have crept into my writing style over the years.
Brandon: I’ll give you a healthy blend of favorites that I will always hold as inspirations in this genre: Agalloch, Edge of Sanity, My Dying Bride, Anathema, October Tide, Saturnus, Unanimated, Amorphis, Dissection. I could keep going, but I’ll keep it short and sweet, as those bands have been by far the most impactful. It’s something about the landscapes that they create musically. Bleak. Heavy. Emotive. Memorable. Songs, lyrics, and melodies that sit and stick with you and will rattle in your bones for years to come. I’ll always strive to provide exactly that, if not something similar.
Mother of Graves is a remarkable name, quite fitting for a band like yours. What kind of meaning did you put into this title?
Chris: My mom is from Latvia, and I knew when naming the band I didn’t want a typical death metal type name. I just happened to be reading some things about Latvian folklore and saw something on one of the “mothers” of Latvian mythology, Kapu māte.
That translates to Mother of Graves which is a figure that looks over, or protects, cemeteries and the dead. This fit well in that the idea for this band was born from the loss of our fallen brother. It honors Jeremy, in a way.
Each of you have a proper background of playing different sorts of quite extreme metal. How easily did you get rid of all these influences?
Chris: I don’t think the influences have fully gone away in some instances. I mean we are still playing metal albeit a different style for the most part. For me there was no issue of my technical death metal background affecting what I write for this band. I am in a totally different headspace with songwriting with MoG than I was in Harakiri or any other past band. I love them, but it would be unnatural for a Gorguts influence to creep in while writing for this band, for example.
Mother of Graves’ EP In Somber Dreams (2021) made some noise: Two of the four songs from this EP were included in Metal Blade Records and Mind Over Metal compilations. It looks like a good start, but in the end the EP was released by a relatively new label, Wise Blood Records. So what do you think – did this promotion really work well for you?
Chris: First of all, it was an honor to be on both of those compilations. Neither of which would have happened were it not for Sean and Wise Blood Records. We signed with Sean before those opportunities arose. I think they definitely helped spread the word about the EP and helped it get noticed by some who may not have otherwise come across the band. We were Sean’s first signing, and we had such a great experience that we didn’t really even consider any other offers or do any label shopping. We knew we wanted to work with Wise Blood again.
Brandon: They were definitely beneficial for us. I’m grateful for any sort of promotion that we get from anyone. This band is important to all of us, and the fact that it has reached as many ears as it has so far is truly incredible. It was pretty goddamn cool to be included on an iconic compilation like Metal Massacre. Never thought I’d see a song of ours on something that big! That comp was the gateway to a lot of success back in its early days.
Now the band returns with the debut full-length album Where the Shadows Adorn which is planned to be released through Wise Blood Records. What are your expectations for this release now?
Brandon: It’s a very personal record with a lot of hard work and emotion put into it from everyone involved. I’m hoping it will impact others as much as it has us. At the end of the day, we did what we love to do, and created something monolithic together. Regardless of what happens from here, I’ll forever be proud of this.
Chris: I do not really have expectations, I guess? I obviously want it to sell well and be heard across the world, but more so I really just hope it resonates with people. It is a deeply personal album that we put our hearts and souls into. I would love if it could mean something to someone like our influential albums mean to us.
The songs’ titles sound like proper names for some death-doom stuff. Are your lyrics focused on abstract subjects like loneliness, heartache, and so on?
Brandon: The lyrics are simply manifestations of what I felt at the time I wrote them. I didn’t go into this with any sort of concept. It was a release. An outlet for the ruts that had a tendency to constrict me. They are but scattered paintings on barren canvases. Dimly lit journeys through the darkness of the heart. Evocative stimulants. They are for the listener to shut their eyes, take in and let carry them through their own world of interpretations.
A lot of great death-doom bands were secretly inspired by loveless nights and negative experiences of relationships. What kind of themes do you tend to explore in your own lyrics?
Brandon: I’d be lying if I said that those topics didn’t play a role in my writing, but I won’t limit it to just that. I’ve spent a lot of time alone over recent years, and in result, have delved deep into my own self. Life. Mistakes. Burdens. Grief. Love. Loss. Discontent. Confusion. Anger. There are really no bounds, and I try to always take these emotions and transform them into something greater, something artistic, rather than letting them bottle up and swallow me from the inside.
How would you sum up your experience of recording Where the Shadows Adorn? Was it a stressful period for you or did you work in a relaxed way?
Corey: For me, the recording process was extremely relaxed and laid back. Even though we were on a strict timeline, it was pretty easy-going. I joined the band shortly before all the writing was complete. So a lot of the work was already done. While working with Ben and Chris it was easy to bounce ideas around and create something we were all satisfied with.
Brandon: Absolutely relaxed. Music and creation should not be stressful. We took our time on this and paced ourselves. Sending things back and forth to each other, deciding what to keep and what to fix. A lot of this material was partially written around the time we released the EP. It just needed to be expanded upon, is all. We made sure each and every one of these songs got the time and care to be as good as they could possibly be.
Chris: The experience was overall great. We recorded it over a long period of time in Ben’s studio so we didn’t have to worry about hourly rates or anything. For me it was not stressful at all other than when we would second guess ourselves during the writing process. I know it was stressful for Ben as the engineer and producer, though. He is kind of a perfectionist, so he buried himself in the album and I know that was hard at times. He knocked it out of the park with the production and capturing the atmosphere that we envisioned. For me though, I’d record some stuff, have a beer, kick back, chill, and then record some other things or just shout ideas at Ben. Haha.
The album is planned to be released on October 14h. So your part of the deal seems to be done… Do you plan to return to the studio or will you support it with a few gigs?
Brandon: We’re always writing. With our guitarist Ben being the main studio engineer for the band, we can pretty much do whatever we want, when we want. No real plans to hop back in and crack down on anything new just yet, however we do have plenty of ideas floating around for the next! As far as gigs, we have a Halloween show lined up in Lafayette, IN. Other than that, we are open to offers, and potential small tours. Only time will tell!
Chris: We do plan to support the album with some shows, for sure. Not sure about any extensive touring, but regional shows, short runs, festival one-offs, etc. are all on the table for later this year and throughout 2023. If you want to inquire about booking hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are already working on new material, so we will continue writing and preparing for the next release.