Tuesday 19 July 2016

Graves At Sea - "The Curse That Is" (Album Review)

By: Gerardo Pacheco

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 01/04/2016
Label: Relapse Records

The album opener and title track drops the anchor to establish the length, tone and rhythm this 76 minute voyage is about. An unpredictable, violent haze of amplifier worship, “The Curse That Is” is a strong candidate for one of the top 10 albums of 2016.

“The Curse That Is” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1). The Curse That Is (11:14)
2). Dead Eyes (11:08)
3). Tempest (07:02)
4). The Ashes Make Her Beautiful (15:15)
5). This Mental Sentence (05:00)
6). The Waco 177 (09:22)
7). Luna Lupus Venator (02:53)
8). Minimum Slave (14:19)

The Review:

Graves At Sea have been around the metal block, a few times I may add, for the better part of this century. Formed originally in Phoenix, AZ, the band gained traction with their debut EP “Documents Of Grief” (Self Release, 2003). They inked a deal to put out the “Cirrhosis/Atavist Arise 7” (Southern Lord, 2004) and then delivered a tormenting split with Asunder (“Life Is Abuse”/20 Buck Spin, 2005). During the course of those two recordings, they relocated to Oakland, CA and rumours boiled over about a potential full length, which never materialized. Hitching on the maritime nature of their name, they returned to the ocean and vanished in the horizon, disbanding in 2008.

2012 came around and the North-Pacific current carried them to Portland, OR, where they resurfaced. More or less following the previous pattern, they put out the “This Place Is Poison 12”” (Eolian Empire, 2014) accompanied by a “Master Of Reality” side B that I’m sure made The Eternal Idol proud. That snowballed to yet another split, this time with Cape Fear’s sludge veterans Sourvein (Seventh Rule Recordings, 2014).

Last year, when I heard GAS had signed with Relapse Records I rejoiced. Then, when they announced the release date I thought: are they serious? Slated for April 1st, 2016 it seemed like the joke was on everyone. You see, it’s easy to dismiss the information, as the band had never released a full length in their entire career. So here we are, 13 years later with high expectations and trust me, they are met with aplomb.

Before we dive in, I just want to point out the fact that Orion Landau (YOB, Red Fang, Inter Arma) continues to astonish me with his ill-as-fuck art.

The album opener and title track drops the anchor to establish the length, tone and rhythm this 76 minute voyage is about. Feedback emerges like a Megalodon from the Marianas Trench courtesy of Nick Phit’s left handed custom SG, crushing you with one of most progressive riffs I’ve heard from the band ever, to then blast off full throttle and unleash that characteristic GAS brand of sound. We can attest here that the production has been polished by Brad Boatright’s skilled hand. Nathan Misterek’s vocal range is on full display here, going from hellish screeching to low rumbling growls. “Dead Eyes” comes in next and features the band riding a more familiar song writing pattern, discharging power-chords right behind Bryan Sours’ burly fills. The track closes with what I interpret as the first of a few well-orchestrated interludes, those which emphasize on alternative instrumentation. As unpredictable as Tiamat herself, “Tempest” honours its name with a violent whirlwind haze of amplifier worship. All 3 of these tracks were released before the record came out, from here on out we head into uncharted waters.

Bisecting the album, comes the magnum opus “The Ashes Make Her Beautiful” which intertwines with the second acoustic interlude on the record. A 15+ minute testament of GAS, this track unfolds and expands their sound beyond anything presented so far in their multiple previous offerings. Grab your headphones and allow it to drag you to the depths of the Challenger Deep. An auditory delicacy. The record moves forward to bring us back to the plodding sludge roots of the group with “This Mental Sentence”, one of shortest and catchiest songs in their entire repertoire.

I happened to be in Texas, just north of Waco, for business reasons, during the unfortunate shootout that took place there over a year ago. People who were clearly not part of the Motorcycle Club lifestyle all had an opinion on the situation and all coincided that this was more of a slaughter than a shootout. “The Waco 177” pays tribute to this sad moment in Texan history. The momentum shifts yet again with the final interlude in “Luna Lupus Venator” and leaves us at the end of the plank with closer “Minimum Slave”. Much like Tiamat’s multiple heads, the track rolls like a frenzied shanty, traversing effortlessly through sludge, doom ‘n’ roll and stoner rock. It is here where the bass really shines and drives most of the riff action.

All in all, this is a solid effort by Graves At Sea, I appreciate that they did not include any old tracks and delighted us with brand new material. I enjoyed the faster tempo that they are now playing versus the slower, more traditional sound they were known for. Don’t get me wrong, impending doom will still make you break your neck mid-air, but slicker pace rounds out the mix overall. A strong candidate for top 10 2016.

The Curse That Is” is available here
Band info: bandcamp || facebook