We often the make the point in our reviews that mixing is one of the key verbs when it comes to metal. Seeing as so much of it depends on the tension between disparate elements made to come together, that’s no surprise. Metal is, at its core, a hybrid. But in order to generate a hybrid which makes sense and can support itself, the art of stable dynamism must be learned. Its aim is it make sure that musical influences come together but in a way which sounds good. However, bands always want to have those influences, even if they’re not good at mixing it; thus, they simply place those elements in the same place and call it a day. Jazz breaks are a good example of this: let us just pause this track for a second, go off on a tangent which has little (if anything) to do with the rest of the track, and then come back to the main line. And there we go, we’re a fusion metal band.
Graves At Sea face different problematic examples: many are the doom/stoner band that has out of place organs, pointless folk breaks and all manner of additional instrumentation in non-organic conjunctures. However, The Curse That Is is a fine example of the art of mixing. Its problem instead is that it doesn’t use the impressive chops these guys clearly have, leaving a lot of the album devoid of what makes parts of it so enthralling. Let’s start with the good: smack in the middle of the album, effectively dividing it into two, is “The Ashes Made Her Beautiful”. This breathtakingly beautiful track, begins its fifteen minute run time with a string section over harshly strummed guitar. This section ponderously gives way to the staple of Graves At Sea. High pitched screams, slow, sonorous riffs and crashing drums rule supreme.
And yet, the track proceeds to do something intriguing. The folk elements return towards its middle part, blending below the harsh vocals and the rest of the instrumentation. Instead of being excised to its own place in the track, the folk influences, with horns introduced along the strings, are an integral part of it. That’s how we got the moving dynamism we referenced in the opening paragraph; the contrast between these more classical sounds and their timbres and the metal overlay is what gives this track so much strength and delivery. Sadly, however, this strength is missing from the rest of the album. Nowhere else do we witness this audacious proximity between folk sensibilities and the basic, stoner metal that Graves At Sea make at their core.
And its telling. The rest of the album, while having its share of great moments, falls somewhat flat when held to the light of “The Ashes Made Her Beautiful”. The rest is just that metal overlay alone, with plenty of groove to keep it from being completely dull. Most exceptional are the closing moments of the album, when “Minimum Slave” slows its main riff down into crushing depths. But these moments aren’t enough to salvage the composition from a safe zone, a secure place where Graves At Sea feel comfortable with their established sound. We know they had more folk material at hand, since “Luna Lupus Venator” is exactly one of those excise zones we spoke about earlier. If more of the sounds contained within that track, for example, had been allowed to seep into the closing track, for example, something much more interesting would have been created. As it stands, The Curse That Is is a good album but one which tantalizes with its potential without fully delivering on it.