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The mighty Graves at Sea are together again. I haven’t seen them yet but a friend who went to see them in Portland, Oregon a couple of months ago said they were too drunk and played like shit. I hope that’s not going to become a regular occurrence, because to see Graves at Sea playing at their best would be to watch mountains crumble before your eyes.

The band didn’t release anything since 2005’s split with Asunder, and they broke up in 2008. They’re new EP on Eolian Empire is only 2 songs but worth taking notice of. This Place is Poison is a bit different from Documents of Grief. The sludge is still there but the vocals are different. Once when my daughter, now 15, was about 10, we were in the car and I played “Praise the Witch” through the iPod. She begged me to put on a different song so I put on “Sacred Predictions” by Burning Witch. I assured her that not only was it a different song but a totally different band. The untrained ear would have a hard time telling the difference between the two. Try this trick with your own kids if you really want a laugh.

But on This Place is Poison, if I had done this trick again, the difference in vocal style would be immediately apparent. The vocals are of two minds: a deep growling that is used primarily, alongside a harsh blackened rasp that momentarily reminded me of a screeching Axl Rose. After listening to the EP again, I’m more comfortable with the vocals but the growling feels rather flat.

The music has everything, though. The guitar sounds remarkably like Sleep when the title track starts then kicks in the heavy, almost droning sludge that we’re used to. The second song, or flip side if you’re getting the 12-inch vinyl version, is a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Orchid” and “Lord of This World.” The Sabbath songs start with a quiet acoustic passage along with some spoken word parts. The track was reinterpreted for Cvlt Nation’s tribute to Master of Reality. It’s recognizably Sabbath, and it’s also a groovier, more stoner side of Graves At Sea that we don’t usually get to hear, but still blackened and bilious.

It pains me to be critical of this because I love Graves At Sea so much, but there are a couple of disappointments. For one, after all the time they’ve been away they only mustered up one new, original song? There’s also a lyric that is cribbed from “Hotel California” in the first track—“You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” Maybe they’re trying to bring a sense of humor into their work, but I don’t like hearing it and being put into a mindset of a tired classic rock song. They’re good enough lyric writers that they shouldn’t have to copycat.

I’m hoping that this is just the beginning of a new Graves At Sea era and they’ll get back into their finest form. They’ve got a European tour kicking off with a set at Roadburn and a split with Sourvein planned. This Place Is Poison came out April 8 via Eolian Empire. Only 1,000 copies of the EP will be pressed and will come with a download code.

— Vanessa Salvia

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