GRAVEBORN: Turning Negativity to Positivity

Graveborn

Boston progressive death metal unit Graveborn was founded in 2012, and in six years they released an EP and three albums, the latest being this year’s revelation ‘The Athenaeum‘ which sees the band reaching new heights. One of the strongest contenders for the 2018 AOTY lists, ‘The Athenaeum‘ is a challenging release for Graveborn, but they have more than enough potential to come up with something greater in the coming years.

Read an interview with the band below where they introduce us to their world.

Define the mission of Graveborn.

We want to be something unique amongst all the other metal bands out there, which is a staggering challenge, considering there’s already so many different flavors and styles of metal that you can find pretty easily with just a little bit of digging. Musically, we want to stick out by emphasizing good songwriting over anything else. What this means is we’re not really looking to push the envelope on technicality, speed, heaviness, or anything like that. We don’t also want to be thought of as a band that just patches riffs from different styles of metal together in an attempt to sound different. Rather, we’re pulling from all of our influences and focusing on the moment-to-moment flow of each song, while simultaneously stepping back to make sure the entire composition has an arc that’s fun to follow. Lyrically, our philosophy has always been the same, down to our band name. Graveborn writes about using negative experiences as a positive force, or transforming the things that burden you mentally, whether it be existential or emotional in nature, into positive drives that lead to growth and understanding of oneself.

Graveborn - The Athenaeum

Tell me about the creative process that informed your recent album The Athenaeum and the themes it captures.

The first riffs were written about two and a half years ago, right after we put out Seeds of Life. We felt we may have rushed the production of Seeds a little bit, and wanted to really take our time and introduce more layers of sound into the compositions. Seeds is almost a one-guitar record – it was written mostly when we were practicing with one guitarist, and the philosophy was we didn’t want to write anything we couldn’t also play live, so a lot of the parts on Seeds lack a harmony or second part that could have maybe added a little more flair. But that record was designed to be raw and straight to the point. With The Athenaeum, we wanted to take our time and give the listener a little more to chew on. On a hardware level, this resulted in the purchase of many guitar pedals! Our guitarist Chris Ramusiewicz had been inspired by Fallujah‘s The Flesh Prevails to experiment with octave harmonies and many layers of reverb/delay while writing some of the hooky melodies. The level of effects was dialed back a bit on the final mix, in favor of supporting synthesizer or piano sounds to add depth to the melody, but the live show still makes heavy use of those effects in the lead tones. This, combined with a focus on making sure every moment of each song was there to serve the song’s arc and nothing else, led to the sound we cooked up.

We usually work on lyrics well after instrumentals are done, and in this case, we wanted to present different lenses that life is perceived through. Every track carries the name of some type of knowledge-seeker, and the lyrics reflect how that type of person might face and surmount obstacles, or interpret their position in the universe. The titles actually came after the lyrics were written, in order not to box ourselves in too much with what each track “should” be about. Rather, each track was written with a vague emotional or mental focus in mind. For example, “The Astronomer” is someone grappling with the idea that you don’t always know what you actually want out of life, and sometimes the hardest thing is articulating exactly what your body and mind are telling you to seek. “The Pathfinder” was inspired by Westworld, and depicts someone musing about whether their personality is a product of their own choices or the influencing factors around them. You could interpret the album as a sort of meeting-of-the-minds, discussing their interpretations and approaches to conflict and obstacles. Or, it’s the many different aspects of a single person, each with their own ideas, coalescing into the full personality of one human being.

What is the message you are trying to give with The Athenaeum?

To put it simply, we’re exploring how different types of people or different aspects of one person use the knowledge they’ve gained to face what comes to them. There’s many different modes of thought or methods of dealing with the relentless chaos of life, and exploring as many of them as you can is always a benefit. Seek knowledge, self-reflect, and improve. That’s what The Athenaeum is trying to say.

How did you document the music while it was being formulated?

Lots of GuitarPro files and demo sessions in Logic Pro to keep track of ideas. That’s really all you need in the demo stage. Once strong instrumentals start getting formulated, there’s a lot of bouncing different versions back and forth between band members, so it gets a little tougher to track, but eventually a “master” version of the songs coalesces and that is guitarpro’d and demo’d out so everyone is on the same page.

Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?

On an individual song level, absolutely! We wanted their to be some less intense parts to give the listener a bit of a break from some of the more sonically layered parts. Toppings on your pizza are great, but every once in a while having one of those bites be cheese/sauce/dough only helps you appreciate those toppings more.

Describe the approach to recording the album.

It was a bit ramshackle! The guitar tracks were recorded two years ago in our guitarist Chris‘s bedroom. It took about a week of guitar tracking and another week of editing to get just the guitar parts done. If you listen closely, especially at the start of “The Dream Eater,” you can hear some edits when the guitar tone changes a bit in the intro due to different mic placement in some recording sessions. The guitar tracks were accompanied by demo bass and drum tracks Chris wrote, which was then presented to the rest of the band to re-interpret as they liked. Reggie [Lewis] recorded the bass in Chris‘s home studio around February 2017. That’s about all he could comfortably record well with the equipment he had, so the drums and vocals were tracked with Anthony Lusk-Simone at Zenbeast Audio in Leominster, MA. Anthony is an absolute production wizard with very very good taste, so his technical audio skills as well as his production ideas were an immense part of why our record sounds the way it does. Anything that is not guitar, bass, drums, or vocals, is Anthony‘s own creative additions into the album. He did a LOT of work for us, a lot of key extra layers that elevate the album to an awesome level. Can’t say enough good words about him. After that, he mixed and mastered the record over a few months, and we had our final product!

How long The Athenaeum was in the making?

About two and a half years! As we outlined previously, it was a bit of a patchwork thing. But taking our time definitely paid off!

Which bands or artists influenced your work on the release?

Well, Fallujah is a pretty obvious one, what with the octave-harmony spacey leads alternating with heaviness.. And The Black Dahlia Murder have always been a heavy influence for their focus on straight up amazing songwriting. Rivers of Nihil‘s complex harmony and Archspire‘s relentless aggression were also big drivers in the writing of the album.

What is your view on technology in music?

The mass proliferation of music gear has led to an explosion of output. It’s a double edged sword in that, while there’s SO much awesome, unique content to find, you have to dig through quite a bit to get to something you really really love. So, instead, people rely on the curation of services like Spotify and Bandcamp to highlight the cream of the crop, and don’t really want to do that much digging as they might have done when a record store was their only option. That’s not true for everyone, obviously, but the challenge nowadays is not putting out quality content. It’s being heard through the crowd, and a lot of the times just making good music isn’t enough, you need to be on top of advertising your stuff in unique and interesting ways that grab people’s attention. It’s a little troubling how much mental energy we’ve devoted to “how do we market ourselves” as opposed to “how do we write good music”, but it’s a necessary effort.

Do you see your music as serving a purpose beyond music?

Hopefully, it inspires someone to be introspective and self-reflective in a way that leads to improvement in their life. We want the passionate energy behind the music to be a catalyst for someone deciding to better themselves, despite the hard work and effort that will require. On the other hand, if you just want some cool riffs and sounds, hopefully it pleases our audience with that too!

What are your plans for the future?

We’d like to expand beyond playing in the New England area, which will require saving up for a good van, which we’re hoping some album, merch, and streaming revenue will help with. The next release is going to be a sort of revival of something that sorely needs it, and after that we’re looking towards releasing a short EP of new songs, so we can focus on making a few great pieces of music instead of a full album for once. But that new material is at least a year away. We’ll see how it goes!

The Athenaeum is out now and is available from Bandcamp. For more information on Graveborn follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

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