Review Summary: Sludge Metal for the common man.
Smoke slowly seeps from under a door adorned in with the Latin calendar, rising and growing thicker by the second. A vermilion light glows from underneath, illuminating the haze. Suddenly, the door swings open, sucking it all in, revealing a lone figure kneeling in the room with a single burning candle. They raise their head, open their eyes, and everything explodes.
This is the start to The Curse That Is, Graves At Sea’s long awaited debut album. This is sludge metal at its absolute finest; grim, fearsome, nihilistic, and unashamedly rage-filled. Overtop droning bass lines and groaning, slow-paced guitar licks that reek of southern rock influence come alternating deep growls and high pitched screams. Real, true, wailing, screeching, imp-like screams that tear into your ears. Graves At Sea displays their love of black metal through these vocals without going too far into that territory, keeping just a slight influence that doesn’t saturate into the whole project and lets their sound remain completely unique. The drum fills are instantly recognizable as a staple of black metal but the beats themselves are heavier, louder, and stronger than anything in the current crop of black metal bands.
Selfishness, hatred, and anti-authoritarianism are the themes of this project. The first piercing vocals roar out “Visions of hope, vanquished to nothing / Living life, do nothing more!” and it is the true philosophy behind Graves At Sea. Nothing matters, the world is ***, and there ain't a thing you can do but live the best you goddamn can before your life ends. Don’t bother being nice, don’t help your community, and you sure as Hell better not be working for the oppressive upper class. This is the anthem for the downtrodden, a merging of Panopticon, Rage Against the Machine, and Herder. The third track, Tempest, is a politically charged rant--no, not a rant, a raving--against our world of constant surveillance and policing. The final track, Minimum Slave, is an equally damning piece against the minimum wage in America and the “Slavers” that treat their workers like disposable pieces of their machine. Crafting a beautifully sickening image of a factory run by chained up slaves choking on the exhaust of their labor, Graves At Sea do not fail at all with their imagery with cutting lines like “The scent of fumes sickens me / Shackled ankles never to be free / White lights replace the sky / Uniformed and waiting to die.” Every syllable is enunciated and dragged out, each line is chopped into pieces, adding a huge weight behind them.
Clocking in at just over seventy minutes, The Curse That Is never fails to deliver on the simultaneously grooving and crushing riffs and miserable lyrics; yet it never feels stale. From start to end, all eight tracks are original, memorable, and above all else, brutal. There are no complex guitar riffs here, just the methodical and slow-burning that build and build into the massive storm of sound. Their sound balances right on the razor’s edge between deliberate craftsmanship and utter chaos, but sit on that thin blade it does. It’s a risky gamble, but a necessary one for the subject matter at hand and it plays perfectly alongside the lyrical themes that drive this album. In a time of protests, distrust of those in power, and hatred for our ruling class, The Curse That Is is a pertinent and necessary piece of work for the metal genre.