Early Graves: "We Just Keep Fucking Fighting"
On August 2, 2010, less than two months after the metal band Early Graves released its second album, Goner, the San Francisco five-piece was en route to a Reno, Nevada, gig when vocalist Makh Daniels died in a van accident. After nearly one year of silence, they played some shows with singer John Strachan from the Funeral Pyre (the band touring with Early Graves during the tragedy, and to which Early Graves guitarist Chris Brock belongs). Now, with Strachan on board as the full-time screamer, Early Graves returns with its third album, Red Horse, out October 30 on No Sleep. Their tour with Skeletonwitch hits Knitting Factory tomorrow night.
Following the accident, the four remaining band members considered retiring the Early Graves name. "We don't know if Makh would've wanted us to continue playing, and we'll never assume he does," says Brock. "But we thought it was important to not let something Makh loved so much go away. He was our best friend, and such a strong-minded dude; who knows how he'd feel? But it's not like when he died we became a fucking pop band overnight. We're still a heavy fucking band, but it's a totally different beast now."
Early Graves has definitely not become a fucking pop band. "Skinwalker," Red Horse's opening track, brushes off the dust with a melancholically heroic intro ("It's our fucking Metallica 'Battery' moment," says Brock) before the thrash erupts and Strachan starts growling about the impending threat of shape-shifting plague-bringers. As before, Early Graves is bleak and bellicose to the bone, but the choruses and riffs are bolder, more strategic, and meatier. And, as a unit, Early Graves returns purposefully coalesced and with sharper focus.
"It's a lot more metal and catchy," says Brock. "And there's a locked-in musical presence, which I think gave John an open palette for what he could do vocally. In Funeral Pyre, which is more of a black metal band, John's vocals are much more ethereal and vague. Here he wrote graspable, but really dynamic, choruses and explosive verses that made the songs really pop. It's very focused -- not some weird experimental thing -- and a straight-to-the-face metal album."
Unsurprisingly, many of the new songs offer reflections on Daniels's death. Despite trying to move on after such an inexplicable loss, it has been especially difficult because asshole journalists (for instance, me) keep bringing it up. Enter "Death Obsessed." One of the weightiest songs on Red Horse, it attacks our culture's sick preoccupation with death and how this has impacted the band.
"People want to watch the news and see plane crashes and murders and celebrities overdosing," says Brock. "For us, it's like we've got this fucking cloud hanging over us now. This isn't anything negative toward you, or to anyone who wants to ask us questions about Makh, because I love talking about him. But people want to know about this awful thing that happened to us all the time. It's like, 'Hey guys, remember when your best friend died in front of you?' It's just very disturbing that they want to know about Makh's death instead of his life. We're stuck in this stupid place of negativity now. But we do write negative music, so I guess it's our fault, too."
Negative, absolutely, but don't be too overawed by Red Horse's apocalyptic themes and war-torn landscapes to recognize it's as much about being as it is about death, as much about what's beyond doom as it is doom itself. "There's definitely a positive side to the story," explains Brock. "As a band, we've gone through every type of possible bullshit together. We got robbed in Boston, and Makh died right in front of us. Before that, we felt this sort of invincibility, and that was instantly wiped away. It's been a constant fucking battle, but we just keep fucking fighting. It took some time, but the fire's here again."