Written by Kep
Mother of Graves – Where the Shadows Adorn
> Melodic death/doom
> Indiana, US
> Releasing October 14
> Wise Blood Records
Some death/doom bands are built to inflict slow death by deliberate, pounding blows. Emotions? Never heard of it, I’m swinging this sledgehammer (slowly) at your head. Others seem to draw from a deep and unending well of somber melodic material that makes you want to lay in the dark, stare at the unseen ceiling, and have a long cathartic sob. Mother of Graves belong to that second group.
The Indiana-based five-piece released a debut EP early last year that served as proof of this, and it seemed to really resonate with listeners. In Somber Dreams channeled the emotional transparency of Katatonia through a musical lens similar to that of German outfit Décembre Noir and fellow Americans Daylight Dies, and Where the Shadows Adorn takes that approach and fleshes it out to a satisfying 45 minutes over eight tracks, replete with mournful melodies, ponderous chugs, and enough tears to fill a lake. This is an impressive first full-length effort, both for its pervasive doleful atmosphere and for the depth of its musicianship.
The songs are driven by the work of guitarists Chris Morrison and Ben Sandman, who have a knack for finding a somber grey musical pocket and sitting desolately in it, imploring the listener to feel with plaintive melodies over melancholy chords so thick you could walk on them. Many of the leads and solos have that sort of dark mournfulness that Katatonia is famous for; take “Rain”, which features a simple and despondent musical line built on a single descending half-step that later blossoms into evocative dual harmony. Part of what makes the individual tracks so strong is that each one features equally moving material from Morrison and Sandman. The main riff of the title track, for example, is just delightful, rising from the sweeping chugs to strive stepwise up and then roll down a small melodic hill. And each time the guitars break into those forlorn duets, like they do in the ending stretch of closer “The Caliginous Voice”, it’s like a they’re reaching directly into your chest and pulling on a bleeding heartstring.
Vocalist Brandon Howe, also of death metal outfit Obscene (whose sophomore record made a splash back in May), has tremendous presence at the front of the band’s sound. His roaring growls are like those of a injured bear, enormous and resonant and full of emotion. There’s a bit of Old Nick of Paradise Lost in him, although Howe’s sound is notably deeper and warmer. And speaking of Paradise Lost, there’s a lot of the Brits’ general vibe in Where the Shadows Adorn, especially in the frequent use of keyboards (also handled by Howe) to sweeten and ornament the texture. “The Crown” is one of my favorite songs on the record, opening with ruminant piano and featuring one of the slowest and bulkiest riffs in the runtime immediately after, and eventually bringing the piano’s theme and a dolorous guitar melody together near the track’s end. But that’s far from the only place where the keys are notable; there are several that will grab your ear, including a particularly nice layering effect in the second half of the title track.
The album sounds great from a production standpoint, as you might expect from something mastered by our lord and savior Dan Swanö. It’s worth pointing out, though, that guitarists Morrison and Sandman did the recording and mixing, and it’s clear they’ve got talent in that department. It takes a deft hand to feature layered keyboards amidst this sort of wide-bodied, toothy dual guitar tone without forcing them obtrusively to the top of the mix, and they nail the balance. The rhythm section of bassist Corey Clark and drummer Don Curtis has plenty of definition and bulk, too, and their foundational performances are wonderful. One of the most impressive passages on the record lies about 1:45 into “The Emptiness of Eyes”, where the band breaks out of a cruelly sad extended intro by barreling forward in full death metal aggression, complete with blast beats and pinch harmonics. A lesser production job might lose control of a spot like that, but instead it’s one of the most impressive moments in the runtime both from a sound, songwriting, and technical perspective.
I’m not gonna overcomplicate this. I love Where the Shadows Adorn. It feels like it belongs in a neat little box with all the sad boi melodic death/doom and gothic-tinged metal that we all know and love. Mother of Graves is very much a spiritual and musical sibling of Paradise Lost, Katatonia, My Dying Bride, Décembre Noir, and the like, but here’s the important thing: the musical quality keeps pace with those acts, too. And what a damn great time to release it, right when the weather is begging you to start spinning the Peaceville Three and their kin again. I predict many, many chilly fall evenings with Mother of Graves for metalheads this year.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Where the Shadows Adorn is a worthy addition to doomy cold weather playlists amongst titans like Paradise Lost and Katatonia. Dripping with tears and blood, it’s full of palpable emotion, beautifully downcast melodies, and more than enough chunk and brutality to bang your crestfallen head to. Bravo, Mother of Graves, bravo.