(Today we present Comrade Aleks‘ interview of the Australian death-doom band Graves for Gods, whose debut album was released in 2022 by Sleeping Church Records.)
The new releases appear one after another and sometimes we have to skip something or just don’t see it. I believe that I saw Graves for Gods’ name in 2022 but the year was a mess and I didn’t listen to their album The Oldest Gods, yet the title naturally stuck in my memory.
I took my time and listened to this album. It’s amazing – absolutely grim, monumental yet material. These four huge tracks bring the feeling of comfort as you hear in them something familiar yet still exciting, classic death-doom vibes,”Celebratory Funeral Doom” as they say.
And they are Jak Shadows (guitars, vocals), Matt Spencer (guitars, bass), and Ryan Quarrington (drums). Each of them has a proper background, as all of them played different kinds of heavy stuff in other Australian bands, and each of them is focused now on creating “music for meditation or violence”. Jak and Matt will explain it better than me.
Hi guys! How are you doing? What’s going on in Graves for Gods’ camp?
Jak: Hi Aleks, we are doing well! Great to see the people of the world getting out and getting busy again, after all the draconian measures many of us were forced to endure.
Currently we are working on our second album. The music has all been written so it’s now down to me to pen the funeral rites!
Each of Graves for Gods’ members already played in other extreme metal bands before you started to move in one death-doom direction. What led you all to Graves for Gods’ foundation?
Jak: Yes, we are/were all active in other extreme metal bands prior to our journey with Graves For Gods. What brought us to this path, you ask? The seed was planted long ago, when Doom Metal first rose in the late ’80s and captured our attention. Paradise Lost, Anathema, My Dying Bride, The Gathering were all regularly played at the rehearsal space of my one of my old bands, Manifestation. Lots of people hanging out with much drinking and tomfoolery taking place. During this times Matt and I became good friends, discussing and analyzing music in detail. However, as captivating as doom was, being young and full of fury meant other musical (and life) paths were chosen.
Fast Forward to present day when Matt approached me to join him in doom; the offer of old friends collaborating in Doom was too good to refuse. We have combined the original wistful emotion that we loved in the Peaceville trio with the inspiration of Funeral Doom and a little psychedelia/ stoner. This mix of styles fits perfectly with our main theme – the exploration of man’s fascination with worship; the contemplative soul searching and the lost and lonely paths that make up these quests.
Hammy, the Peaceville’s founder, has said that it pisses him off when he hears the “Peaceville Three” thing because the label’s reputation was built by many others bands as well back in late ’90s. But all of us are used to it. However… what I wanted to ask… Sometimes people tell that these three bands influenced them, but PL was quite extreme in the beginning and then they turned to more melodic “gothic” stuff. Anathema was into Pink Floyd almost from the start, and they have their own sound. And MDB was the slowest of them and they had their own features too. So can you explain what you took from this trio?
Matt: Yeah it’s just such a convenient phrase to reference three great bands. Maybe for me it should be the “Peaceville Four” as Autopsy are a huge influence too hah.
So some specific things I’ve drawn on from them would be the wonderful minor pentatonic lead sections over resonant power chords throughout Paradise Lost‘s first four or so albums. I like the last couple a lot too. Mackintosh can really squeeze a lot of drama out of just a few simple memorable phrases. It’s really inspiring.
For Anathema, Pentecost 3 is the absolute business for me. Seriously under-appreciated. I guess it was the vocals that were a barrier for some fans, but they definitely inspired parts of Graves for Gods. I remember discussing with Jak how we could try and capture some of these voices. We decided they’d be like Anathema, but presented like a medieval king addressing his kingdom. Loud and pompous. Another huge thing for me on this release is the use of sustain and feedback. The guitars absolutely soar. It’s magic.
As for My Dying Bride, a big part we’ve taken is of course their early use of Death growls in doom, but also their willingness to really stretch out a passage. To not be afraid to build around something for minutes on end. I’m trying not to get too carried away with this answer.
Jak: I personally appreciated the prevalent gothic overtones in the first few Anathema records. I loved how Darren mixed up clean and shouted vocals with the growls. I adored the cold harshness of the debut Paradise Lost, just so bleak and tortured, The early My Dying Bride is also black magic and as Matt says Autopsy are also a big influence. I think it’s fair to say we love brutal, filthy doom that is not afraid to let some colours out too.
What was your vision when you started to compose The Oldest Gods’ first tunes? What were your requirements for the future album’s sound?
Matt: Initially the phrase ‘Celebratory Funeral Doom’ was the mantra. Ideally it would capture both the senses of loss and bonding funerals can create. By the end the theme was ‘Music for meditation or violence’. I guess the album is one of dichotomy. Reflected in its extremes. Musically the Peaceville three were of course a big inspiration. We definitely aren’t attempting to be retro, nor emulate them, but they were always a reference point. Worship, Reverend Bizzarre, Thergothen, Skepticism, Mournful Congregation, Black Sabbath and Sleep all held influence over moments throughout also.
You said “music for meditation or violence”, and doom metal is associated with violence very rarely. How do you see this aspect in Graves for Gods?
Matt: I guess it’s not so much violence in the way of stab, hack, slash, kill, etc. More the violence of a felled tree hitting the ground. Glaciers colliding. The violence of Fitzcarraldo dragging a boat over a mountain.
Jak: Life has many meditative moments; in birth and life there is always violence and also in death because no matter how peaceful a death may seem it will always be a violent force in someone’s life.
There’s a bit of a psychedelic vibe that could be found here and there; “Embalmed Embrace” radiates some of it for example. Which bands helped you to shape this softer side of death-doom?
Matt: Oh man that question’s a potential barrel of worms! There are really so so many bands we’re into in so many styles, metal and other, that played a part in all this. Maybe for me it might most heavily stem from the song “Maggot Brain” by Funkadelic. 10 minutes of incredibly dense guitar vibes from Eddie Hazel. Maybe some parts of Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, and Anathema‘s discographies play a pertinent role in our quest for these vibes too.
So we return to “big” names again and that reminds me of a general question I have for bands. Good or, let’s say, perspective bands appear here and there constantly. But it looks like they’re doomed to dwell in the shadow of a few Old Ones which still exist, even if some of those “old” and “big” bands are not as good as before anymore. How do you see Graves for Gods’ prospects from this point of view?
Jak: In some ways metal has reached its peak audience, so it was inevitable the big names would stay at the top. Music has become so disposable today and we are spoilt with all the new bands that are constantly springing up. It is a very different time from the days when we would have to put so much effort into getting new music – you depended on your local record store, maybe you traded some, you religiously read the liner notes in your latest LP purchase to find new bands. We don’t have any lofty aspirations of world domination, we are more interested in making the metal that makes us happy and if it makes other people happy, then that is a bonus. We won’t stop until our hearts do!
Hmm, and can you mention some of relatively new doom bands which were able to break through? I think about Conan and Khemmis. Both are old enough now, but… just tell me if you have a better example 🙂
Matt: I enjoy what I’ve heard of both those bands. Great album covers too. But to be honest I’m not necessarily great at keeping up with what’s new. I’m still catching up on so much great old stuff. Maybe I’m more drawn to things that have a lasting impact. I’m a sucker for end-of-year lists. End-of-decade lists are even better.
Graves of Gods is an epic name and The Oldest Gods‘ lyrics touch epic themes. Why did you choose Sumerian myths as a basis of this album? It looks like you a had a concept behind these four tracks.
Jak: Matt had all the music written along with song titles and band name. He described to me his thoughts on the band name – giant, forgotten graves. On deep reflection of this, I drew the conclusion that we should explore man’s obsession with worship and we should start with the earliest religions we knew of.
You are correct, each track takes you on the journey through the rise and fall of Sumerian religion. “Firetop Mountain” naturally was the birth of life “when the earth meets the sky”. “Embalmed Embrace” sees two loved ones willingly make the decision to follow their master to the murky underworld city of the dead – Kurr. “The Oldest Gods” chronicles the demise of the Sumerian gods, and “Wake” is the celebration of their death.
All of you have this background of playing in other bands. Did you have an experience of recording in a real studio? How did you record The Oldest Gods?
Matt: Yep we’ve all recorded several albums in some professional studios. In fact a couple of decades ago I can remember that my first pro-recorded album with the band One Step Beyond featured some guest vocal spots from Jak himself!
The Oldest Gods was intended to be split between pro and home studio environments, but as was the style at the time, Covid took a shit all over our plans. It became very much a laptop album. Reamping was replaced by Amp Simulators. Pro rooms were replaced by bedrooms and living rooms. The whole mix was done on a laptop in my home. I think much of this works in its favour. It was never intended to sound state of the art.
Those few Australian bands I interviewed (including Raven Black Night, which you know for sure) told this obvious thing about how it’s difficult to tour in Australia. What can you tell according to your own experience?
Matt: This is absolutely true. It’s a huge land with mostly coastal cities and a population of 25 million. There are realistically 10 places tops where an underground act could hope to pull a crowd of anywhere near 100 or more people. For us in Adelaide the nearest major city to the east is a 7 hour drive. The nearest to the west is a 24 hour drive. The roads in between are long and dangerous. One of our great friends, One Step Beyond and Raven Black Night co-founder Jeremy Lammas, passed away on the roads between Adelaide and Melbourne.
For me, much of my touring was as a member of Raven Black Night. The shows were great fun, but being stuck in a van together for 8-10 hours at a time didn’t help cement any frienships hah!
The Oldest Gods was released by Sleeping Church Records, and the very same label releases now the first album of another band you’re involved in – Dream upon Tombs. How do you separate your inspiration and ideas between these two bands?
Jak: I would say, very easily. Matt writes all the music for Graves, I write all the music for Dream, there is zero crossover musically. While I do write the lyrics for both acts, Graves For Gods has a very specific theme that stands apart from the dark folk tales told in Dream Upon Tombs.
Which of these two bands have more chances to play live – Graves for Gods or Dream upon Tombs?
Jak: Oh, that’s an interesting question! I’m not sure I can provide a clear answer to that. There is definitely desire in both camps!
The Oldest Gods was released over one year ago, and you said that you already have new songs, so when do you plan to release them?
Matt: The music for our second album is written. Vocals and lyrics will commence as Jak‘s Dream Upon Tombs promotional duties subside. We won’t place a deadline on it during this phase. We’ll be as patient as we need to be. So much of our writing process is listening. Sometimes I need to hear a song 20 times before I properly understand where it’s asking me to take it. The optimist in me says we’ll be ready by the end of the Australian winter.
Okay, then let’s hope that everything will go according the plan this time! Good luck with the finishing of the new album, maybe we’ll be able to figure out how to support it. Who knows…
Thanks for chatting with us and join us at gravesforgods.bandcamp.com.