Heavy times call for heavy music. It’s no secret that people lean pretty mightily on whatever brand of music speaks to them when the going gets tough. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you’ve noticed that the going has gotten tough lately for most people. Having a great piece of music to commiserate with or to just jam out to in an attempt to forget the shit state of the world for a few minutes can be a real balm when life is giving you nothing but grief. To me, doom metal feels like the perfect remedy when life is running you down. If you throw in some death metal stylings to get some of that aggression you’ve got toward life out too, well then you’ve got yourself the perfect therapeutic treatment in sonic form there.
Formed in 2019, Indianapolis doom metallers Mother of Graves might just be the right cure for whatever ails you. Blending doom metal with elements of death, Mother of Graves follows in the footsteps of now classic bands like Paradise Lost in putting together doomy cuts with a more extreme nature than you might get out of other bands. That it all works as well as it does without sounding derivative of any of their influences is a real testament to the playing and composition skills of the guys making up the band. If you haven’t picked up their 2022 debut, Where the Shadows Adorn, now would certainly be the perfect time to get on board. I recently caught up with the band to talk about their origins and what the future holds for Mother of Graves.
First off, what is the origin of Mother of Graves? What made you want to tackle this kind of band and how did you all meet?
Chris Morrison (guitars): The band started after one of my best friends, and bandmate at the time, suddenly passed away. It was a very difficult time. I started writing songs that were pretty sorrowful sounding and dark. A lot of the early death-doom, like Katatonia and Tiamat, was really speaking to me at the time, and that was kind of the style that I started to write. The songwriting helped process the grief at the time.
After a while, we decided these songs needed a proper release so we officially formed the band. I’d known Ben [Sandman, guitars] for many years. We used to play in a different band together and have been friends since. I’d been in a band with Don [E., drums] with our friend Jeremy, who I mentioned had passed. Don was also in a band with Corey [Clark, bass] and Brandon [Howe, vocals]. We had all known each other from just being around the scene here.
How did you decide on the name and what does it mean to you? Were there others considered?
Chris: When looking for names, I was reading up on Latvian mythology. My mom is from Latvia, and it is just an interesting place. I was reading up on Kapu māte, which translates to “Mother of Graves.” This mythological being is the protector of graves/cemeteries. I found it to be fitting for our theme.
What got you into metal in the first place and who are some of the bands that got you into the genre?
Chris: Oh man… I got into a bunch of stuff back in the mid ’80s…Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth, a bunch of skate punk stuff, and even hair metal bands. Whatever was kind of heavy and different, I was all about it. I got into the hardcore scene here when I was like 14 or maybe 15 and that changed my perspective on things. It showed me that I could be doing that. I got into a lot of HC bands but started gravitating to the heavier and nastier ones. Then, I’m not sure how, but I was introduced to death metal like Obituary, Deicide, and all the more well-known bands at the time. That started my deep dive into the extreme metal subgenres.
What’s the writing process like for the music side of things?
Chris: Well, it usually starts with a single guitar riff or melody. Sometimes one of Brandon’s piano melodies starts the process for a song. I have hundreds of little voice memo recordings on my phone of ideas and riffs. We work a lot through a shared Google drive or text each other ideas we’ve had. We don’t get together to rehearse all that often and tend to do most of our writing in Ben’s home studio. I’ll go over there and we will just start putting ideas together, recording them, trying different things until we get a basic idea for a song together. Then we all just give our opinions, write additional parts/harmonies/leads, etc. until we are happy with the end product. It is a different process than I’d done in past bands, but it works for us.
What’s the writing process like for the lyrics side of things? What do you try to do with the words to a Mother of Graves song and is there anything that you turn to in particular for inspiration?
Brandon: The writing process for me is pretty relaxed, I suppose. It’s therapeutic and cathartic. I don’t ever force it. I don’t ever really sit down with the intent of writing a song. They’ve all been written during pretty rough times, where emotion flows the best and most naturally. I approach lyrics from a very poetic standpoint, as I read a ton of old poetry in my downtime. People that have created iconic pieces spawned from their battles with sadness, grief, depression, and love. I want every word to mean something. To bleed unfiltered from the heart without restraint or too much thought. I want people to connect to them. To find some relation in them. I often revert back to certain classics because of the things within that I can relate to. They serve as comfort for me. As reassurance that in this dark world that you’re not alone in the things you feel. I just wanted to recreate that same experience for someone else with my own words.
What was the writing/recording process like for the debut LP, Where the Shadows Adorn? Being your first full-length, were there any challenges to getting that completed and how do you feel about the final product? What did you learn from the process that you’ll utilize on future recordings?
Chris: We are all very happy with how the album turned out. The process was kind of our typical writing process, and we recorded a lot of it as we wrote it honestly. A lot of the ideas and songs were older. Like the song “Rain” was around in 2017 in a different form. “Of Solitude and Stone” was finished days before we tracked drums. There were some challenges just dealing with editing and getting things turned into the label on time. We had some issues with some malfunctioning studio equipment on some of the drum tracks that we didn’t notice until later because we used something like 22 microphones for some reason. In the future, we will maybe do a few things differently recording the drums to ensure we don’t have to do too much clean up work afterwards. It turned out fine though.
I wanted to ask about the inspiration for a few songs on that album. Could you tell me how the song “Rain” came about?
Chris: I will let Brandon speak about this one from a lyrical perspective, but the main guitar parts were written back in 2017 shortly after our friend, Jeremy, passed away suddenly. I wrote it on an acoustic guitar sitting on the floor in my house. Just sitting there grieving and strumming. It felt right and stuck with me. I knew we had to use it on the album. It contains a lot of parts that you would not typically find on more “death metal” records, which I am proud of.
Brandon: This was one of the first new songs we really had completed as a whole after the release of our debut EP. I loved it from the very first time I heard it. It was a lot different than what we had before. It originally sat in our Google drive titled as “Rain” by Chris and Ben and was something that I just decided to keep the name for after some contemplation – given there’s a line that I had worked in towards the end of the song “the stars above rain upon my lifeless flesh.” It seemed meant to be in the end!
“The Emptiness of Eyes” is another favorite of mine. Where did the ideas for that one come from?
Chris: Musically, this one came from a cool riff that Brandon wrote. The intro riff is just a doomy single string line that is super heavy by itself. Then the song moves into what is the only “fast” and most aggressive part on the album. There was some inspiration from some old Edge of Sanity songs that came into play in this song for sure. The second half of the song is one of my favorites on the album because I really like the lead line and how we transition into a very simple yet driving riff that is very fun to play.
“Ghost in the Twilight” is another song I really dig from there. Could you talk about the inspiration for that one?
Ben: The main theme of that song was intended to have a melancholic feel to it but also with a bit of a dreamy spin you could get lost in. The original riff came from a batch of ideas I had that were more post-rock than death metal. There’s some My Dying Bride inspiration in there, because there always is [laughs]. On Chris’ recommendation, I’d been listening to October Tide during that time and I’m sure that rubbed off as well. Don came up with the idea to start the whole thing off with an approaching army of drummers, to raise the suspense of what was coming. I loved that idea, so we worked it in during drum tracking.
Lastly, how about the story behind that epic closer, “The Caliginous Voice?”
Chris: We wanted an epic closing track, and as we worked on this song, we knew this was going to be the one to close out the album. It encapsulates the cathartic writing process in my opinion. I had the main verse riff and bones of a couple of the other riffs put together, but what really made the song whole is what Ben wrote for the intro, which became a theme throughout the song. I remember when Ben played that intro part at a rehearsal and my jaw dropped to the floor. It was one of the saddest pieces I’d ever heard. I love this whole song.
That cover to the album really jumps out to me as well. Who did it and how much direction did you give them? To you, why does that image best represent this album?
Brandon: Paolo Girardi is the mastermind behind the artwork. I’ve been wanting him to do something for a musical endeavor of mine for years, and I was ecstatic to get in touch with him and to hear that he was into doing our cover. His color work and detail has always been something I’ve admired and paid close attention to. I knew he’d be able to bring to life the atmosphere and mood that I had envisioned.
As far as direction goes, I gave him a lot of freedom to follow what he felt, and what our music inspired him to create. I simply shared a few songs along with a set of lyrics to follow. I did, however, have an image that I found while surfing abstract stuff that stood out to me. It was something that, to me, looked as if a bunch of shadow figures were fading into a flowing stream of water. It was a very distorted image of strong blues and blacks. That gave me the idea of the figures blending into the waterfall. I shared that with him. He gave it his personal touch and twist and made it something that well exceeded my expectations! I feel like it best represents our album because it has a very bleak feel to it. Something about the deep blue colors really brings out a feeling of emotional depth and sadness, which is exactly what this record encapsulates from front to back…
What makes this current lineup of the group work so well together and how do you guys keep a healthy band dynamic?
Chris: There are no real ego issues in the band. We have all been doing this for a long time and know what it takes to have a healthy band dynamic. We don’t have that one member who wants to go in some different direction and do things no one else agrees with. We are all friends. We are all doing this for the opportunity to write and create cool and meaningful music without expectations of having to do this for a living or anything like that. Plus, I think we are all very strong at what we do, and we all respect each other. Everyone in the band is a good songwriter and that is what is most important, besides being good humans and friends.
What is the metal scene like in Indy and how has it shaped the band?
Chris: The metal scene in Indy is in a really good place right now. I’ve been around the scene for decades, and it is the best it has ever been right now with lots of bands getting national/worldwide attention, good promoters, good labels, lots of great shows, great fans of the music, etc. It is still also a very tight knit scene. Most people know each other, it seems. As far as how it has shaped the band… All of us in the band are a bit on the older side and have been around for awhile. We’ve known each other from other bands and just being around. We’ve seen the ups and downs. We are just lucky to be a part of the upswing these days. We have great friends/fans/support locally and are very appreciative of everyone.
Lastly, what’s next for Mother of Graves? What are your goals for the future of the band?
Chris: We are currently working on material for the next album. No idea when it will be ready, but we have some great plans for it in place. We are also working on booking some festival appearances and short tours to help promote WTSA. As for goals, my only goal is to write songs that are meaningful to us that also resonate with our fans. Anything else is a bonus.
Thanks for the interview!
Photo at top: Where Shadows Adorn album cover.