"Earthen Grave"

By Earthdog

Earthen Grave is a 6 piece doom/traditional heavy metal band and has an extraordinary line-up considering it is made up of guitarist Jason Muxlow from The Living Fields and Wintering, drummer Scott Davidson (ex-Stonehenge, owner of Rebel Radio), bassist Ron Holzner who you should know from Trouble, Debris Inc and Place of Skulls ,vocalist Mark Weiner from Trifog and guitarist Tony Spillman. The icing on the cake is classical violinist Rachel Barton Pine and with a line-up like that, you would expect something a little different and that is exactly what you get. The band has been tagged as a doom metal band and this self-titled album certainly kicks off that way but as it progresses, the album unleashes old-school heavy metal elements, progressive rock and an odd kind of psychedelic blues rock.

Starting with a track named after the band themself 'Earthen Grave' you get tolling of church bells and wind sounds and I would love to see someone count how many times that has been used on a metal record. This gives way to heavy riffs, very emotional, melodic singing and violin which is used very effectively. There is something about the general feel of the track that reminds me of early 70's proto-metal bands while the vocals on the other hand sound modern. The song travels along in a fairly generic fashion (while still being very good) till it gets 6 or so minutes in the piece when it all gets very jammy and slightly psychedelic. The combination of jammy, psychedelic guitar and violin might seem strange but it is actually a captivating combo. It has to be said... and I am sure it has been said already... that it is a unique sabbathian meets grunge-rock mix for the most part, especially in the vocal department. The song is multi-layered and certainly has a lot of musical depth but as soon as you get settled in your chair for a traditional doom metal experience, it changes gears.

The second track 'Life Carries On' has more of a biker-metal/stoner-metal vibe that is not too far removed from what Orange Goblin do so well. There are the usual big guitar riffs you would expect from the style but once again comes the violin and that is really what sets the band apart from others and gives it a totally unique vibe. There are exciting guitar solos being traded back and forth from Jason Muxlow and Tony Spillman but there are also guitar versus violin duels which really add a surprisingly large amount of variance to the approach this band has to songwriting and performance. The band then go into a cover of Witchfinder General's "Burning a Sinner" and it is a great version but why they present us with a cover when the originals are so strong seems a bit strange to me. Nevertheless, they give the doomy classic some good treatment. So three songs in for three different moods, feels and styles so they have already delivered more variance than most doom metal bands muster on an entire album.

The 70's classic rock returns with 'Blood Drunk' which can be compared with any number of 70's metal power-ballads. The band unleash huge riffs with passages of intense melancholy but it is perhaps one of the albums least unique moments. The sabbathian approach returns in a huge way for the next track; 'Dismal Times.' The track plods along in typical sabbathy fashion but is made unique enough with soaring guitar leads and more of the exquisite violin playing. It is atmospheric and haunting and very heavy and stands out as one of the albums most memorable tracks. For the first time on the album, they repeat themselves with another sabbath-inspired dirge 'Tilted World' which is pure mid 70's era Black Sabbath. It is so close to Sabbath in fact that many people are pointing out a riff 4 minutes in which sounds remarkably like the Sabbath classic 'A National Acrobat.' This is not us reviewers being picky but more of a case of pointing out the bleeding obvious. Despite that, this tune has the riffs and grooves needed for a classic metal track and it is so good, the effect is spine-chilling.

'Beneath a Shovel Load' is a doom blues with a great slow building arrangement and it has more than enough crushing and chugging riff work to keep even the most fussy doom-head entertained. 'Fall In' is one of 5 tracks that passed the 6 minute mark. The album is built around these mini-epic pieces and most of them never drag on or get tedious. This one, like most of the tracks features atmospheric passages, soaring guitar work and violin work that has to be heard to be believed. The albums biggest and only major weakness is covers. They do yet another cover, this time it is Pentagram's "Relentless" and while they are great versions, they are still weaker songs than the band's own originals. I know Pentagram fans have most likely spat whatever they are drinking into their computer monitors right about now but I do hear their originals as being much stronger tunes than the two cover tunes chosen for this release. The two tracks don't really enhance the album in any way and actually sound out-of-place when you stack them up against the original tracks.

While the epic tracks work on the rest of the album, the last and very epic 'Death On the High Seas' does seem overly long as it goes off the rails about half-way through only to leave the listener with another 5 minutes of dirge to dig through. Song-wise, this last track and the two covers are the album's only missteps but they are only minor flaws (if that) and hardly disrupt's how much pleasure is to be gained by listening to this album. The production is very good but at times, the guitar sound could have done with some extra meat. While the guitars are in line with the tones of the early to mid 70's, I can't help but feel they should be thicker. I have sung the praises of the violin work but special mention should also go to vocalist Mark Weiner who seems to be able to change his voice at will. Every song on this album is given a slightly different vocal take which is another great plus for the album. It keeps you guessing but it also provides some much-needed variety because some of the passages enter into typical doom-dirge modes.

Even with the minor questionable elements that this album has, this is a very impressive release with great atmosphere and a flair for stunning musicianship. There is a range of different moods, different textures and while it is not the instant classic that I was hoping to hear from Earthen Grave, it has become addictive listening for me personally. You may need to give this a few spins but if you do, you will uncover a unique and refreshing take on the doom metal genre....8/10.