Early Graves – Red Horse (No Sleep Records, 2012)

If you were to listen to Early Graves’ Red Horse without knowing anything about the band’s history, you’d probably never guess that this is a band that has risen from the ashes of tragedy.  This is not a band that sounds broken down or beaten; this is a band that sounds lean, mean and hungry, ready to raise Hell and rip some fucking heads off.  It is a testament to Early Graves’ intestinal fortitude that they were not only able to recover from losing their original vocalist in a horrible accident, but to write, record and release their definitive album (so far) in the process.

Joined by new vocalist John Strachan (also of The Funeral Pyre), Early Graves have crafted a collection of songs that retains the unhinged viciousness of their previous material and at the same time sees the band coming into their own as songwriters and riff-masters.  The music on Red Horse is still as raw, rough and ragged as it gets, but the individual tracks are better composed and more memorable while still managing to beat you to a bloody pulp.

Musically, there are hints of rumbling Stockholm-style death metal, latter-day Black Flag and even some of Integrity and Ringworm’s crushing apocalypse-core in Early Graves’ sound; where I come from none of those influences are a bad thing.  Granted, there are a lot of bands currently doing the “Swe-death meets hardcore” thing (see: the entire current Southern Lord roster), but Early Graves sound like they mean it, man.  Simply put, these San Franciscans are so good at what they do that they make any other band even attempting this style look and sound like a pack of pathetic bandwagon-jumpers.

The production on Red Horse is all rumble/buzz/clatter, which is perfectly suited to Early Graves’ pummeling salvos of ultra-corrosive metallic hardcore.  After all, music this ugly deserves a recording quality that enhances the ol’ filth ‘n’ fury, and songs like “Pure Hell” “Death Obsessed” and the catchier-than-herpes title track all sound like they want to wrestle you down to the dirt and then systematically break every fucking bone in your body.  After that, they’ll probably piss on your remains and set them on fire.

Indeed, Red Horse is an album that positively bristles with anger and violence, but there is also a sense of conviction.  Early Graves clearly believe in what they’re doing and the dedication bleeds out of every pore; the band’s brush with death has only served to strengthen their resolve.  The result is not only a restatement of intent, but one of the most visceral, cathartic recordings you’ll hear this year and beyond.


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