Graves at Sea - The Curse That IsHaving had the opportunity to review some doom/sludge releases lately that focus on preserving the genre’s mood without over-exaggerating the delivery, I’ve come to appreciate those bands that can deliver hypnotizing, doomy atmospheres in simplistic, down-to-earth ways. I will not argue that some “epic-ness” works, but sometimes it corners the music into a white room, forcing it to overcompensate via orchestration, synths, or a “more is better” attitude that makes it as one-dimensional as a shitty movie soundtrack. Castle‘s 2014 release, Under Siege, is an example of an album that swallows me up with its more-really-is-less simplicity, and Via Vengeance‘s Harsh Conditions further instills those emotions in me. Musically, Graves at Sea is another band that keeps their doom simple, but, where album length is concerned, they’re is all about the atmospheres, epic builds, and lengthy songs. Their 2016 debut album, The Curse That Is, may have a seventy-five minute runtime, but it represents that stripped-down, classic doom sound; full of clarity, emotion, intensity, and a message as convincing as that of its influences.

The title track opens the album with some billowing feedback before its Tool-meets-Mastodon doom/progressive/sludge character takes the song for a ride down Depression Drive. This eleven-minute tune sends the listener on a dark journey, building into an all-out, heavy-as-hell conclusion. It’s a simplistic, yet well-crafted song that is long, but due to its catchiness and calculated crescendos, feels shorter than it actually is. The band delivers such passion in “The Curse That Is” that the listener—at least, this listener—becomes absorbed and helpless to its mission; a mission that continues from album opener to album closer. Second track “Dead Eyes” takes Nathan Misterek’s raspy vocal style and evolves it further into catchy and unforgettable territories; with a voice that robs elements from black metal genres, using them to give uniqueness to the Graves at Sea sound.

Though the opener may seem to be a solid representation of the Graves at Sea, “The Ashes Made Her Beautiful” lays into it like a grandma bitch-slapping her eighteen year old grandson for lecturing her on the meaning of life — Note: this reviewer does not discourage such actions. Opening with some beautiful violin work (which can also be found in the closing minutes of “Dead Eyes” and the instrumental “Luna Lupus Venator”), this fifteen-minute track stands-out as the quintessential Graves at Sea tune. It combines powerful emotion with violin segments and unleashes harsher vocal patterns, and a drone that brings to mind Crack the Skye-ear Mastodonian vengeance. This approach appears again in the closer, but “The Ashes Made Her Beautiful” achieves such a beautiful balance that you’d think the entire album was created around it.

Graves at Sea 2016

However, not all the output from This Curse That Is works as well as “The Ashes Made Her Beautiful.” The five-minute “The Metal Sentence” is a stellar ball-busting ditty (containing one of the most addictive riffs on the album and a well-calculated vocal punch to match the hammering drum assault), however, the similarly crafted seven-minute “Tempest” lacks the power of its five-minute twin. Honestly, “Tempest” feels like one of the longest songs on the album, chugging along like a brainless schoolyard bully. Additionally, and sadly, “The Waco 177” (a song focused on the 2015 biker-police shootout in Waco, Texas) suffers the same downfall as “Tempest.” “Tempest” and “The Waco 177” push so hard and so long (in hopes of becoming like their lengthier counterparts) that they don’t know when to quit.

As for the production, The Curse That Is has all the machination to make it one of the best sounding albums of the year. Unfortunately, its compression keeps it from doing so. The dynamic range may be industry-standard, however, this doesn’t stop The Curse That Is from sounding really good. The heavy guitars and distant vocals may have some rawness, but the mix balances them with the bass and drums wonderfully—even allowing the guest violin and acoustic guitars of “Dead Eyes” and “Luna Lupus Venator” an equal opportunity to shine. The length of The Curse That Is can be taxing—fixable with the exclusion of “Tempest” and the trimming of “The Waco 177” and closer “Minimum Slave”—but, in the end, The Curse That Is keeps it clean, keeps it simple, and unloads the doom like your beloved grandson unloading his emotions on his unfortunate psychiatrist. Not perfect, but this band has a lot of potential.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 128 kbps mp3
Label: Relapse Records
Websites: gravesatsea.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/GravesAtSea
Releases Worldwide: April 1st, 2016

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  • André Snyde Lopes

    Old fucking English fucking Text fucking MT!

    It’s the sphere of 2016!

    • Bart the Repairman

      It’s not the first time, when you’re pointing at poor font choices. Professional sensitivity?

      • André Snyde Lopes

        Not at all. Just appalled that this is still a thing in the 16th anniversary of the year two thousand…

        If you’re a band, have an original logo font for fucks sake. Imagine if Metallica, instead of having the iconic logo it has, wrote their name in a stock font like this? It’s beyond unacceptable.

        • Bart the Repairman

          Well, in case of an anonymous band with budget barely sufficient to buy new strings, I can tolerate a logo or a cover made in Paint by one of drummer’s girlfriends.
          But this one comes from a major label. Someone might try harder…

          • Name’s Dalton

            Pretty sure Relapse is still an indie label.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            It’s nice how you imply that the drummer has more than one girlfriend ;)

          • Having multiple girlfriends is pretty much why people join bands.

        • well, Metallica did use stock font in the beginning, just with the M and A drawn nifty. Graves at Sea using Ye Olde Englishe Texte is probably aiming for a docks crowd in New England.

        • Innit Bartender

          Merciful Fate logo is in plain Old English… as well as Bathory…

          • André Snyde Lopes

            Bathory, yes. Mercyful Fate was similar but not the exact same font.

          • Innit Bartender

            You’re right, the titles of the MF albums were in plain Old English… And the song titles… maybe even the lyrics? Ah ah ah!!

        • SegaGenitals

          I pay more mind to the quality of the music, than the commodification of the band via brand recognition signifiers for T shirts and band merch. They could use a wingdings font and I’d still give zero fucks if the music is good.

          • André Snyde Lopes

            Wingdings would be a dick move but at least it would be original…

        • ZEbyiUWvbe

          Well, Motörhead wrote their name in a stock font. Albeit along a curve.

    • JWEG

      Is it actually called Old English Text? That’s a hell of an anachronism.

      I might just be too much of a Manuscript History nerd to just accept this and move on quietly.

      • André Snyde Lopes

        In Office 2016 it is. I think it’s also called Cloister Black.

    • lennymccall

      I mean, there is a sphere right there on the cover too.

  • Westpaceagle

    I dig the embed, have definitely been getting into some sludgey sounds recently. This would go nicely with my Kyuss station on Pandora, if they have it

  • Ein Sophistry

    “The Curse That Is Review.” I know of a band or two who might agree with that sentiment. This one, though, has little to fear. Sounds very promising.

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    I appreciate your hard work, Doc. 4 reviews in 4 days? Absolutely mental. Loved every single one!

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      I appreciate it! Glad you’re enjoying them. Lots of reviews from the hardworking AMG staff :)

  • Feytalist

    Music’s great – I’m just not sure about the vocals yet. Doesn’t quite fit the style, I think. I’d prefer a more deeper growl. Might be a deal breaker. Shame.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      They are different. It took me awhile but they may come around.

    • herrschobel

      deep growl boring. high shriek different and good.

  • Innit Bartender

    Hoorray for band photos in their friend’s garage!!! That’s a breath of fresh air! Down with the graveyards, up with the workshops!

  • schism70

    128 kbps mp3 files sound horrible. Who would do that?

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Every label…

  • Blueberry Balls

    What a grump.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      I fucking knew it…

  • TminusEight

    Sounds great, and I like the vocals. Thanks.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      No problem. I enjoy the vox as well.