Graves at Sea – The Curse That Is (Relapse)

Thursday, 24th March 2016
Rating: 7/10

Emblematic of the term “perseverance,” west coast sludge maestros Graves at Sea have waited, or rather, slogged it out for the better part of 13-plus years before releasing their first album, The Curse That Is. Along the way, constants Nick Phit (guitars) and Nathan Misterek (vocals) have accumulated only a handful of demos and EPs, some of which has been halted by a four-year break between 2008 and 2012. So The Curse That Is is obviously the work of a band who didn’t know any better and decide to forge on when all signs were telling them to pack it in. Perseverance indeed.

At any rate, their going-rate sludge sound is not going to earn them any points in the originality department. Purveying the commonly-used volume-soaked, feedback-drenched guitar tone, Graves at Sea may be harbingers of aural destruction, yet their routine forays into oft-treaded avenues tends to bog the album down. The only real separator with the band is their use of some well-placed violins and droning guitars, as found on the tail-end of “Dead Eyes” and the album’s best jam, “The Ashes Made Her Beautiful,” which if we weren’t paying attention, would be an excellent song title for an EMO band. Elsewhere, the slow-burn and churn of “Waco 177” contorts itself into an Eyehategod-like fuzz trip, while “Minimum Slave” manages to pile on one burly, beastly riff after the next, resulting in a 14-minute run-time.

It’s not necessarily the fault of Graves at Sea for not being able to cut through the marsh and mire of sludge’s unyielding conventions. One could certainly vouch for the band in the guitar tone department, although amp knob twiddling can only get so you so far. What will eventually make Graves at Sea more than a passing commodity is the heavier use of somber elements sparingly scattered about what is mostly a bloated album. Until that happens, consider the band a push.

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