Joplin, Missouri’s Gravehuffer combines an eclectic amalgam of sludge, crust doom, crust punk, death metal, thrash, doom, grindcore, hardcore, and punk genres with seamless agility. Featuring bassist Mike Jige, guitarist/vocalist Ritchie Randall, and vocalist Travis McKenzie (they are still looking for a permanent drummer), the band has been honing its frenetic sound since 2010.

On their fourth full-length album, Depart From So Much Evil, opener “Blueprint for an Early Grave” begins with the ominous sound of an air raid siren, signaling a warning for an emergency evacuation, complete with samples of violent shouts before the ensuing tsunami of fuzzy sludge riffs and vitriolic vocals commences. The chaotic buildup is the perfect start to the album. The record’s first five tracks are short blasts of furious grindcore/crust punk elements, while the sixth and final track — the title track — is where things become musically monumental. The gargantuan, three-part composition is a 22-plus minute Dante Alighieri-inspired musical journey that goes through the author’s triumvirate of pieces with Inferno, Paradise and Purgatory through song form. It’s a diverse and adventurous composition with a Venom-esque “At War With Satan” vibe that keeps the listener on the edge of their seat.



“We’ve been wanting to do the Dante thing for a while, but I just didn't know if we should do it,” Jige explains during a recent phone interview. “I have a studio at my house, so we can take as much time as we want to record. Ritchie had a phone full of riffs and we'll just start grabbing pieces and put them in line. The first part of it kind of wrote itself. As time went on, we started doing the middle part. But the end is probably what took the longest, getting all the ideas. It was a little bit of a different approach, and we added things that we don't usually add. But it was good to get that out of our system, because we wanted to do it for so long.”

Playing Inferno as guest vocalist for the title track is none other than Kam Lee, iconic frontman of death metal pioneers Massacre. Through the magic of Facebook and recording technology, Lee was quickly on board.

“I think somehow I was Facebook friends with him and I just point blank asked him, and he was really nice about it,” Randall told me during a recent phone interview. He said no problem, as long as he could get a copy of it on vinyl. He's super nice, and he was even apologetic because he was wanting to get it to us sooner. He had just gotten over being sick or having Covid or something when he cut his vocals. It was pretty cool to have him be a part of it. He sounded so cool and you can tell he got into it. It’s so weird hearing your lyrics being sung by somebody like that, especially somebody who's been in the scene a long time. We sent him a guide vocal of where to put them and he went by that most of the way. He may have changed a couple of things, but for the better, I think.”

Boasting one of the coolest names in death metal, Gravehuffer was originally formed in 2008 as Krom. However, the band came upon its current name due to a devastating force of nature and a little help from a friend.

“In 2011, there was a big tornado that came through here,” Randall explains. “We used to practice at my place and the tornado pretty much took that out. So, we were on hiatus from the middle of 2011 until winter of 2012. That’s when Mike actually brought it up about changing the name. We were starting to get confused with other Kroms out there. A friend of ours had this band that he was going to start called Gravehuffer, it was rockabilly type stuff. We thought it was a cool name, but not for rockabilly and we said he should let us have that name.”

Compared to the band’s previous releases, Depart From So Much Evil proves that the band has progressed musically, while still staying within the Gravehuffer framework.

“I don't think we ever really think about the past records when we're writing,” McKenzie says. “I’ve only been in the band for three years; this is the second album I've been on. But I was a fan. The first singer, James (Hiser), is one of my best friends. I've known him since the fifth grade. So as a fan, there is a progression there. I guess the only way I would say that we do think about the previous records is that we want to blow them away and get better.”

Although the Gravehuffer sound pulls from many different genres, it was actually a natural progression that combines the three core members’ musical influences.

“It comes from all three of us, really,” Jige says. “Ritchie was a metal kid. Travis was like a closet metal kid, his parents were real religious, so he was into different music. I was into Devo and breakdance shit when I was a little kid because there was breakdancing right by my house. And then later on I got into punk. So, I have the crust punk influences and Ritchie has a taste of that too because he's played crust punk for 30 years now.”

Depart From So Much Evil’s cover art by Eric Sweet adds to the band’s diverse aesthetic. Although not the typical death metal album art, the intriguing watercolor rendering captures the imagination of the title track. As a bonus, Sweet also did the opening narration on the title track.

“(Eric’s) always been one of our favorite artists; he’s a longtime friend who's like a brother from another mother,” Jige says. “We all love his art. He knew of Dante, he knows the story really well; he lived in Italy for probably 10 years. He probably had at least 20 concepts and sent them all to us as watercolors. Most of those were like Dante and Virgil in a boat in the water; he was doing the three levels. But then the picture of the cover that we saw, it's kind of like Dante leaving Purgatory and he stops and rests for a second, and he (sees) Paradise in front of him. Eric won't tell me what it is. He said there's something in the dark part that I’m not seeing, because I keep looking at the light.”

Although the band has been together for over a decade, Gravehuffer hasn’t embarked on very many long-haul tours. However, their travel plans are filling up for 2023 as we speak around the general Midwest region.

“We've probably got 10 or 15 shows booked already, from now until July I believe,” Randall says. “What we're going to try to do is what we've been doing the last year or two, and that's where we’ll play three or four shows; Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Mike likes to call them our “Ninja run.” We try to get outside our area a little bit, but we try to make sense of where it's basically a circle. We're playing Colorado, Des Moines, Florida in November and in March we’re doing Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Austin. We're playing at the SXSW Festival. We’re basically doing shows every month. As it adds up throughout the year, that's about 20 or 30 shows.”

Depart From So Much Evil released on February 17th, 2023 via Black Doomba Records.

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