Graves at Sea finally land with debut full-length, the hulking, smothering ‘The Curse That Is’

Graves at Sea (Orion Landau)There’s no timing on how long it takes a band to put out a debut record from the moment they form. Who knows what can happen after forces get together? In fact, sometimes bands rush the creative process and commit music before they’re really ready. So what’s better? Creating art too quickly or taking a long time?

There’s probably no real answer. But if Graves at Sea are to be taken as a an example, maybe waiting for ages to put out a first record isn’t a bad idea at all. Of course, their path is much different than many other groups, and their time making smaller releases and perfecting their live performances were good ways to make their way to “The Curse That Is.” This, their first record, is a total mammoth. A total of 76 minutes spread over eight songs provide ample demolition, almost as if they’ve pent up all the anger and carnage they carried since forming in 2002 and poured it into this first voyage. Their smudgy, doom-ridden playing doesn’t necessarily go for the jugular. They toy with you, punish you, smother you, and make you pay for everything, leaving you a heaping mess on the floor, writhing from the pain. This isn’t a fast knockout. You’re going the distance and paying for every moment.

GRaves at Sea coverSo 14 years after Graves at Sea first formed, they’ve finally reached this destination. The band started when vocalist Nathan Misterek and guitarist Nick Phit joined together with bassist Roger Williams and drummer Steve Klatz, who has since passed, and got moving with their “Documents of Grief” demo and later a split effort with Asunder. After that, the band went through some reshuffling, eventually splitting up in 2008 and coming back together in 2013. Now, Misterek and Phit are joined by bassist Jeff McGarrity and drummer Bryan Sours, and before this new record, they offered up an EP, as well as a split with Sourvein. But it all comes down to “The Curse That Is,” a great payoff to nearly a decade and a half of morphing and developing, and a collection that proves the filthy reputation they built is well deserved.

The title track opens this monster, running 11:15 and setting off a swaggering riff that begins the display. The vocals are grisly, with howls of, “Eat of my body, drink of my blood!” and the bulk of the tempo is smudgy and smothering. Growls and shrieks intermingle, and the final minutes are dizzying and massive. “Dead Eyes” is muddy and bludgeoning from the start, hitting a doomy pace at the front end of its 11:09 run and working to exact punishment and pain. Wails of, “I stand transfixed to depart this reality!” blister you, and the band stampedes forward, stomping over and over again, and even a brief dose of acoustics and atmosphere can’t clear the thick smoke. “Tempest” unleashes more hell, with heavy mashing and strange sounds bubbling underneath. The vocals begin to scrape, and the guitar work sounds like an homage to Matt Pike, with a hard, abrasive finish. “The Ashes Made Her Beautiful” is gargantuan at 15:16, the longest cut on the record. Acoustics open the song in serenity before burly riffs explode and cavernous growls strike. Strings rise up, as the emotion floods the gates and the track bleeds on. The song slips into sadness and desperation, as the track keeps smothering, the music pours chaos, and the band channels the darker, more dangerous shades of Black Sabbath.

“This Mental Sentence” is a shorter one at just 5 minutes, and it wastes no time getting started. The assault is molten, while the band punches away, meteing out their violence alongside a disarmingly colorful melody line swimming through. “Waco 177” follows, a 9:22 trudger that revisits the people slain during a massacre at a restaurant in Texas in 2015 during a meeting of biker groups, an incident many attributed to government officials’ overreach and overreaction that resulted in the slaughter. Nine people were killed, 18 were injured, and 177 were arrested, hence the song title. “Waco 177, shots ring out and bodies fall/Waco 177, a massacre under Texas law,” is howled with conviction, as the band surrounds this bloody tale with heavy riffs, creepy organs, and a heaping dose of ugliness. “Luna Lupus Venator” is something of a cooldown, a 2:54 instrumental built with acoustic guitars, strings, and rustic melodies that provide a dose of calm but also a foreboding sense of danger. That arrives on the vitriolic closer “Minimum Slave,” a cut that unloads with a sinister riff, crushing rhythms, and gurgling growls that spit blood. As the band strikes out about the common worker being mistreated and disrespected over this 14:20 crusher, they solidify their points with ugly mauling, drubbing growls, and massive chugging that bruises skin. As the song and record wind down, the band unleashes woe-packed devastation, and a feedback storm floods everything and drags you into a never ending noise vortex.

So maybe it took Graves at Sea 14 years to finally drop this cement-heavy slab in our laps, but now it’s here, and it’s a crusher. They leave no stone unturned, zero bruises salved, and nothing but fury and torment in their wake. It would be cool if they didn’t wait another decade and a half to get us another bloody helping of what they do best, but at least we have “The Curse That Is” to keep us beaten and sore for the foreseeable future.

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