Hailing from Indiana, Mother of Graves take massive musical cues from My Dying Bride and early Paradise Lost and apply those sounds to the broader musical canvases of the likes of Swallow The Sun. From the off, the material on this debut EP (originally released in 2021) really values huge, dark melodies, but in order for those metallic backdrops to not sound too commercial – relatively speaking – a really abrasive melodic death metal growl has also been applied. This, at least at first, sounds like an act of slight self-sabotage since the bulk of the music would definitely be better suited to a Type O Negative influenced croon. There’s nothing about that voice – even at its most extreme – that will be too off-putting to the hardened doom fan, of course, but it might stop the material appealing to a broader spectrum of metal fans.
Regardless of any potential misgivings about that voice, the music really is first rate. The title track kicks everything off with one of the band’s finest arrangements. The opening makes a superb feature of a twin guitar working a very harmonic sound, much like ‘Clayman’ era In Flames, albeit a little lighter, before launching into a verse where a hardened drum sound quickens the tempo very slightly and everything settles for classic, melodic doom, as if the band have overdosed on early Paradise Lost. Within the riffs, you’ll find a few lead flourishes that add colour to the heaviness via a brighter, more metallic sound, and plenty of nods to traditional melodic doom, and that’s always enough to get past a vocal that’s a little too abrasive. By the time everything slows down for the middle eight, going into a second half, there’s far more of a concession to the doom purists, but that’s balanced out by a final, unexpected twist. Showing how they’re capable of thinking outside of the box, at the point where the track reaches a natural end, the band makes time for an unexpected speed driven coda where the guitars latch onto an old Iron Maiden style riff and give it a kick up the arse, whilst drummer Don Curtis hammers the living hell out of his bass drum pedals. This is obviously far more about musical hooks than lyrical charms, but across five minutes, the (mostly) heavy and slow riffs dominate in fine style.
Even better, ‘Nameless Burial’ heads further into trad doom territory with a menacingly heavy riff that sounds like an old Crowbar jam amped up. This allows for a heavier rhythm guitar to work some magic, but the bass work is more impressive in the heavy stakes, as Corey Clark adds a really fierce thud throughout, which is perfectly suited to Brandon Howe’s demonic growl. It’s at this point where his extreme delivery starts to make more sense, too; if you’re ever going to tune in, it’s here – especially at the point where he juxtaposes some guttural roars with a cheeky keyboard riff that reawakens memories of old horror movie themes that sound as if John Carpenter played them on a toy piano. In terms of no-frills doom, this is great; there’s no time for flashy solos or anything too smart – it really is all about the funereal style, and it’s a mood Mother of Graves absolutely nail.
Bringing back some strong late 80s/early 90s guitar melodies, Ben Sandman and Chris Morrison invoke bits of Paradise Lost once more for ‘The Urn’s opening riff. For those who’ve kind of understood where the band were coming from previously but wished for more melody, the opening instrumental passage of this number will certainly appeal. Cleaner guitars join a darkwave synth, almost veering towards an instrumental interlude from Braindance, proving that MOG’s doom sounds are pulled from a broader selection of influences than most. Eventually, the riffs intensify and take on an almost thrash-like speed – it’s very fast for doom, at any rate – and the tightness within the intense metal further shows off a strong band. Settling into a mid tempo goth/doom hybrid, things become a little predictable, but for lovers of the style, there’s still plenty of great guitar work to devour before another Paradise Lost/Katatonia-ish workout, ‘Deliverance’, pulls everything to a close. As before, the band are playing very much to type, but the marriage between the punching rhythm and angered vocals are arguably the EP’s most natural fit. Beyond those dominating sounds, you’ll find a dirtier riff leading into a cold instrumental section where “gothic film soundtrack” is more obviously the remit, and a pleasingly fat bass groove kicks off a more complex finale where elements of prog metal unexpectedly prop up another round of heavy goth/doom riffs. Overall, this is another genuine highlight. If you want to hear most of this band’s combined talents packed into four and a half minutes, this track should be your first port of call, as it is a near perfect recording.
Granted, the gruff vocals will divide opinion, but musically, Mother of Graves bring so much melody to the goth/doom/melodic death metal scene that their songs still hold up. With the odd musical surprise thrown into a slow and doomy backdrop, there’s enough variation here, too, to ensure boredom never sets in. Simply put, even with those vocals, there’s enough musical strength at the heart of these four tracks to make this EP a potential genre classic, even though some of its material comes at the more extreme end of the doom scale.