Graves at Sea Premiere “The Curse that Is” from Long-Awaited Debut Album

graves at sea (Photo by Orion Landau)

Reformed Portland, Oregon sludge-shovelers Graves at Sea will release their long-awaited debut album, The Curse that is Graves at Sea, April 1 on Relapse Records. This in itself is a noteworthy event.

The thing about Graves at Sea has always been that they never got a record out. I remember very clearly watching the band play at a Southern Lord-sponsored showcase at SXSW in Austin, Texas, in March 2004. Their demo, Documents of Grief, was fresh in mind then, and they shared a bill with Khantate, Outlaw Order, Place of Skulls and Earthride — perfect company to keep for a band who seemed poised to destroy minds and reap souls with vicious, lurching sludge, demented in fuckall and raw delivery. They killed that night. Killed.

A single surfaced in 2004, a split with Asunder in 2005, and that was it. The band, based initially in Arizona, then in California, and now in Portland, Oregon, got back together in 2012 and have played shows steadily since. The Curse that Is… arrives following a split with Sourvein and the This Place is Poison EP in 2014, and it’s a record that meets 13 years of expectation with gut-ripping extremity, founding guitarist Nick Phit and vocalist Nathan Misterek joined by bassist Sketchy Jeff McGarrity and drummer Bryan Sours on an encompassing eight-song/76-minute double-LP, each individual record capped with a side-consuming epic work, whether it’s the 15-minute, violin-inclusive “The Ashes Made Her Beautiful” or the mega-chugging 14-minute finale “Minimum Slave” that ends the album in the only way it possibly could — with a lingering hum of malevolent noise.

If you were worried, fret not, Graves at Sea still sludge out with raw, grim doom. The opening title-track offers quick affirmation, backed by the stomping “Dead Eyes,” which prefaces “The Ashes Made Her Beautiful” with a string dirge at the end, and “Tempest,” which reminds of just how well Graves at Sea paired with Sourvein on that split while graves at sea the curse that isgiving Sours charge of the churning apex. When it hits, “The Ashes Made Her Beautiful” highlights an atmosphere of misanthropic depression that’s been there all along — something that will be further reinforced on the penultimate interlude “Luna Lupus Venator” — but “This Mental Sentence” and “Waco 177” bring that to an earthier execution with lyrics respectively centered on drugs and the 2015 shootout between police and several motorcycle clubs that resulted in 177 arrests and nine deaths.

What The Curse that Is… does best of all is blend the visceral, searing aspects of Graves at Sea‘s sound with that overarching atmospheric bleakness, and in that, the album builds on what the demo accomplished those years ago with a coherent, unflinchingly dark vision. The use of violin throughout — Alex Carlson contributes — adds arrangement complexity, and adds to the initial crux of the record’s lurch, whether that’s in the deceptively catchy “Dead Eyes” and “Waco 177” or in the sprawling gruel of “Minimium Slave” at the finale.

Do not expect them to make it easy, because they won’t. “Luna Lupus Venator” provides some late respite, and “The Ashes Made Her Beautiful” reaches outside the confines of sludge, but Graves at Sea — more than a decade later — remain an extreme, punishing band, and while I’ll continue to remember them as they were that night in Texas, it seems clear in listening to The Curse that Is… that the band’s intent lies in creating new memories altogether. Their first album is a forceful step in doing just that.

Check out the track premiere of “The Curse that Is…” below, and please enjoy:

Doom/sludge quartet GRAVES AT SEA has completed recording its first-full length ever! The new material, which was tracked at Audible Alchemy in Portland, OR and mixed at Earhammer Studios in Oakland, CA, will see an early 2016 release via Relapse. The album was engineered by Greg Wilkinson (Atriach, Lycus, etc) and mastered by Brad Boatright (Obituary, Sleep, Yob, etc), and will also feature artwork by Orion Landau. Album preorder information will be made available soon.

Though they have gained a near-cultish following in the underground in relatively little time, GRAVES AT SEA’s success is even more noteworthy when one considers the fact that the band has managed to do so without ever releasing a proper full-length album. Formed in 2002, the band soon self-released the demo Documents of Grief (2003), which quickly became one of the most talked about underground demos of the decade. After recording their debut 7? and a split with Asunder in 2004 and 2005 respectively, the band went on hiatus, before reuniting in 2012 and signing to Relapse Records in 2015.

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