The current landscape of heavy music is littered with a variety of smaller ideas that seem to be picking up steam and traveling in their own directions. The old-school death metal scene is flourishing and black metal continues to expand into new contexts at every turn. One area that seems to be holding stead, however, is the shape of doom. There are several discrete subgenres within the doom family that while diverse and expansive in its own way, it is less adventurous than its counterparts with a quicker pace. Of those smaller spheres of the lower and slower metal, one band has been making quite a name on the more melancholic and melodic side of things. Mother of Graves from Indianapolis, Indiana have been stoking the fires of the morose side of the metal for a couple of years now we are thrilled to have them center stage for this week’s featured artist. I spoke with guitarist Chris Morrison about the band’s unique take on their brand of doom metal, formation, and how their recent successes have shaped them as a band.
If you’ve heard Mother of Graves, you know that their sound tends to lean on somber notes which echo loss, resolve, and the emotional upheaval of perseverance. It only makes sense that these emotional tones have been there since the beginning and that this band was born from loss and the need to express those emotions through music:
‘It was born from loss. The band started after one of my best friends, and bandmate at the time, suddenly passed away. It was a rough, difficult time. I started writing songs that came out sounding dark and kind of melancholic. The songwriting helped process things for me. After a while I felt the songs needed a proper release so I gathered up some friends to make it happen. There was really no expectation to do more than release a demo or even really that first ep at the time. I just wanted to complete the songs and get them out there.’
There’s no wrong way to approach a musical idea and everyone’s trajectory tends to vary greatly. For some bands, there’s a love affair with a certain sound or emotional center. For others, they just want to put all these riffs to use. Mother of Graves aren’t really chasing just one thing with their music. Clearly they love heavy music, but there’s more to their material than just being heavy for its own sake.
‘Writing for MoG is a cathartic process for us. We aren’t writing to be brutal or heavy in a traditional death metal sense. We aren’t trying to get the crowd circle pitting or whatever. It sounds corny as fuck to talk about sometimes, but we are writing from deep inside. It sounds emotional because it is. From the melodies to the lyrics to everything else. Also, I was just ready to write more melodic stuff as it was just not what I had done in past bands for the most part.‘
While loss is never a pleasant or desired experience, it is often the catalyst for the emotional expression that cannot be conjured otherwise. Such is the human experience. With an origin that orbits the need to express grief, it’s no surprise that Mother of Graves strikes the tones which they do sonically. Since they arrived on the scene, there have been numerous comparisons to bands such as Paradise Lost, early Katatonia, and My Dying Bride. While these aren’t inaccurate comparisons or bad company to be in, I knew that there was more going into their sound than just trying to recreate Brave Murder Day. Chris agreed that the comparisons – at least on the surface – are accurate, there is more than meets the eye. Some of the names dropped may surprise you, but if you listen to their music with these influences in mind, it all clicks together nicely:
‘You can hear some ’90s grunge influence here and there, especially with some of the chords that Ben [Sandman] comes up with. There’s less obvious death metal influences in there too that one would really have to pay attention to hear at times like Hypocrisy and even some stuff like early Monstrosity. That stuff gets kind of disguised at times, but there is definitely Edge of Sanity inspired bits here and there as well.’
I personally can hear Edge of Sanity all over “The Emptiness of Eyes” and a few other tracks on Where the Shadows Adorn, and while this band is careful not to stray into pure death metal territory, some of their riffs certainly hit like them. As far as Chris’ personal influences, they’re not all strictly metal and again this shows with repeated listens to their material:
‘As for me, I get inspiration from some more melodic hardcore/post hardcore stuff I grew up on as well. There were a lot of really good emotional and melodic hardcore bands in the Midwest way back when. A lot of the way I play guitar was influenced by that kind of stuff as well as stuff like early Sunny Day Real Estate. Again a lot of times you won’t hear it outwardly, but it is there especially if you know where I am coming from.’
The mixture of ideas all wrapped into one cohesive musical vision is a place that seems to take a lot of bands a while to get right, but it seemed to be there from the start with Mother of Graves. I have been listening to them since the release of their first song, EP, and now to their debut LP. They have known who they are since the beginning. While in some ways, the band exploding into what they have become wasn’t really the plan from the start, it does seem like a natural progression and one that is coming with more recognition than expected. The release of In Somber Dreams in 2021 was met with some especially positive attention.
This initial set of songs came from the initial writings that Chris did from around 2016-2020 and it didn’t take too long for Sean Frasier – journalist for Decibel Magazine – to show interest in Mother of Graves being the first signing to his new label, Wise Blood. Frasier was also able to get one of these initial songs into the ears of the masses by helping to get “In Somber Dreams” on Metal Massacre XV from Metal Blade Records. This no doubt helped get more eyes and ears onto the band. After the initial positive reaction to the EP and the additional attention from getting a compilation feature, the band started planning their next move. I have always wondered how initial success affects a band’s approach for a follow-up and while there’s not just one feeling that would come from that I wanted to know how Mother of Graves approached their process of getting things ready for a new album:
‘I thought at first that we’d feel pressured to try to top the EP, which maybe we did a small bit at first… But honestly, with the way we write songs, we aren’t going to finish or release anything that we aren’t 100% happy with. We will just keep working until we get that ‘feeling’ where we know it is right. If I am still second guessing things, then it isn’t there yet. It is hard to explain, but when I can get that feeling of knowing a song is done, I don’t worry about expectations. If I am happy with it, and others don’t end up digging it then oh well. In the end, we do this for ourselves. Of course, we all want others to like, appreciate, and have our art resonate with them. We also want our label to not lose their ass on our releases as well, haha’
It didn’t take them long to get working on the next album. In October of 2022, Wise Blood released Where the Shadows Adorn, the band’s debut LP. Aside from the catharsis that must come from getting an album out the door, to have it be met with praise the way this one was, must be an even bigger feeling. How did that affect the band? Relief? Surprise? Affirmation?
‘Yea, all of that. Haha! Even though we were all happy with the album and were proud of what we had done, no one wants to see their work get trashed in reviews or even worse get ignored. I think we all felt a big relief when we started getting the early feedback and saw some positive reviews come in. Then we saw it selling pretty well and were honestly very surprised that it kind of took off like it did relative to us being pretty unknown and on a small label. It was very surprising. The best part is when we get a message from someone telling us how much the songs resonate with them or how they helped them through some tough experiences. That is just flattering.’
It’s tough to imagine having a better start than Mother of Graves have had. While the impetus to start the band was born out of something that none of us wish for, the power of those emotions are still being felt and are still giving that grief purpose. This is a testament to finding a creative way to express those feelings that need to be exercised and why sharing them can lead to connections you simply cannot foresee. While there are plenty of reasons that I personally like this band, I think my favorite aspect is the authenticity of the music. Yes this is a musical style that I enjoy but there is something under the surface that permeates each aspect of their music that helps it ring true in my soul, as well as my ears. This type of congruence is always an added bonus when I see and feel it in music.
With their already prolific career as a band just a couple of years old, Mother of Graves is hard at work on a third release. I can already tell you that I’ll be first in line when it comes time to hear anything new from them. While I can’t imagine we’ll hear a huge change in direction, it seems like what we do know is ‘It’ll be doomy, heavy, and melodic.. Who knows what else?’ I for one can’t wait.
Mother of Graves is…
Don Curtis – Drums
Ben Sandman – Guitars
Chris Morrison – Guitars
Brandon Howe – Vocals
Corey Clark – Bass
As I stated at the top, there aren’t many wildly new things going on in doom metal. It’s a genre that doesn’t need much tidying up but when a band like this comes along and breathes new emotional depth into a style that’s been loved since the ’90s, it’s an exciting time to be a fan. Be sure to follow Mother of Graves on Instagram, and Facebook, and check out their Bandcamp for all of their music and merch.