Graves At Sea

The Curse That Is

Written by: AP on 21/08/2016 20:04:59

As ludicrous as it seems, it took Graves at Sea 14 years to finish their début album, and just as expected, the end result is gargantuan. Clocking in past 76 minutes of depressive riff-o-rama, “The Curse That is” heralds the long due advent of this Portland, OR based sludgy doom metal quartet with all the weight of the world, to pacify their hungering disciples — if not by its sheer enormity and depth, then with the brunt force of its down-tuned, down-tempo bludgeoning. The record’s slow, considered unfurling leaves little up to chance but asks a lot of the listener; the only way to fathom the beast is to let its darkness and melancholy immerse you, and cascade through your psyche like the surf of an oncoming tide.

In its two periods of existence (from 2002 to 2008, and again since 2012) the band has of course issued a handful of demos, singles, splits and EPs that have earned its founding members, guitarist Nick Phit and vocalist Nathan Misterek a cult reputation. But whereas those releases revelled in sounding like sewage as a product of doom’s deepest underground is expected to, “The Curse That is” shifts the focus from murk and extremity toward a more melodious funereal sound, but without sacrificing Graves at Sea’s trademark density, heaviness or raw edge. The mix is more balanced now —and the song dynamics follow suite. It awakens some skepticism that the record should be so time-consuming, but because the songs are not patterned so much around repetitions, “The Curse That is” rarely drags its feet. The likes of the title track and “Dead Eyes” are in constant movement, breathing, ebbing and flowing between scourging riffs and mournful grandeur laced with violin soliloquies by Alex Carlson, and seldom revisiting an idea once its potential has been exhausted. It is somehow fitting to the themes of hopelessness and claustrophobia that the songs, like the situations they describe, seem to drag on endlessly, insurmountably, and instill this feeling of utter, heavy abandon.

But at the same time, “The Curse That is” leaves in its wake a nagging feeling that Graves at Sea pushed so hard to demonstrate a decade-and-a-half’s worth of thinking and writing that they did not know when to stop sometimes. Both “Tempest” and “The Waco 177” are characterised by the sort of aimless meandering that is more lulling than absorbing, and feel forcibly prolonged in the hope of measuring up to some of the real masterpieces here. Both should have been omitted, or at the very least trimmed. The irony is that both songs are already what you would call ‘short’ in the context of this album, while creations double or triple their mileage seem to pass by far too swiftly. “The Ashes Made Her Beautiful” revels in the acceptance of loss for more than 15 minutes and is absolutely gripping; its string arrangements, cold, clean breaks and huge elegiac melodies painting a soundscape so forlorn it makes the lips quiver. Likewise, those 14 minutes of struggling with inner demons via coruscating riffs and slab-dragger bass in “Minimum Slave” are made to feel like half that length, as the conclusion to one of the most suffocating records of the year looms ever nearer: ”A noose is the gate, leading out.”

It would not be surprising to find Graves at Sea performing at the scene of a murder-suicide then, yet paradoxically, “The Curse That is” sounds… exciting? The album, those couple of mishaps aside, triumphs in its burrowing into the core of despondency, leaving no stone unturned in its quest to make you feel miserable — in the most grandiose way possible. That the record effectively represents a lifetime’s worth of writing gives it the buzz, the energy of music that has been smouldering so long its announcement to the world at last was always going to be majestic.


Download: The Curse That Is, The Ashes Made Her Beautiful, Minimum Slave
For the fans of: Buzzov•en, Sourvein, Thou, YOB
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Release date 01.04.2016
Relapse Records

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