8/12/2009 - Review by: Raising Iron
Earthen Grave are a new act out of Chicago whose notables include Trouble's former longtime bassist Ron Holzner and underground doomers The Living Fields' Jason Muxlow on guitar. Given these members' pedigree, it's no surprise Earthen Grave are at their core a doom band, yet they are much more.
The riffs generally plunder the trove of traditional doom, yet they expand and mutate into a classic heavy metal of sorts, at times even flirting with old-school thrash of the mid-tempo nature. What really sets the sextet apart though is the inclusion of one Rachel Barton Pine on violin and the way her parts are written into the compositions. Now it's certainly no surprise to hear violins working as integral instruments in metal these days (hell, before metal existed even, see heavy psych/proto-metallers High Tide from 1969!); My Dying Bride, Shape of Despair, Ashes You Leave..., the list of doom bands employing the acoustic accoutrement is virtually endless (and lets not even get into all the pagan/folk metal bands!), but this is the first time these ears have heard it used in such direct accord with the guitar riffs. From a bit of research it seems Rachel uses a six-string electric (of course!) to achieve the desired effect, but between her riffing with the guitars, she exhibits abundant fills, as well as leads, all in places where you'd expect to hear guitar leads. No mere atmospherics or chordal reinforcement here; even when the band reaches into high speed thrash territory – see "Death on the High Seas" – the effect achieved with the additional layer is astounding, let alone the prowess with which she plays.
Digging into this self-released five song demo, we get three originals, rounded out by a couple of covers; Witchfinder General's "Burning A Sinner" and Pentagram's "Relentless", and yes, the violin is right in there riffing away. The title track opens the disc, rooted in a traditional doom flavor before breaking into a speed-ball of a riff, and "Life Carries On" follows in mid-tempo heavy metal flair, but the fourth track, "Life on the High Seas", clocking in at ten minutes, is where the band really shines. The song, running the gamut of speeds and styles, stays weighted in its focused approach, denying any chance of ennui setting in, and that opening riff is pure, head-banging bliss! At thirty minutes total, Dismal Times is a worthwhile slab of metal for the price of admission.
The band are currently searching for a label, and in the meanwhile furiously writing to fill a full-length for future release. Here's hoping that future isn't too distant, as this group is onto something unique and fresh, and the compassion they have for their craft certainly shows.
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