A third album from San Francisco's Early Graves was hard to imagine not that long ago. In 2010, the crusty, metallic hardcore band was riding high on the buzz generated from the bruising and intense Goner, an album that would end up reissued on the influential Southern Lord label. Then came a touring band's worst nightmare.
Traveling with tourmates The Funeral Pyre, Early Graves were driving across Oregon en route to Reno, Nev., when the driver fell asleep. The van and trailer veered off the road, throwing singer Makh Daniels out of the vehicle. With Daniels' death, Early Graves lost what at the time seemed like their strongest asset and gained an uncomfortably poignant band name. Obviously the loss of Daniels is tragic for more reasons than just his achievements as a frontman. But the desperation and disdain with which he screamed lines like "I'd rather burn out than fade away," his command of the stage, and his ultimate fate added an air of finality to Goner.
"It took a really long time to even decide to play together," guitarist Chris Brock explains. "We talked about it and we thought about it and played together and shit, but there was never a day where we didn't think that getting in a van again was going to be difficult."
Brock also plays in The Funeral Pyre, which returned to the road just a few months after the accident.
"Every fucking bump in the road, you feel it," Brock says of the Pyre tour. "Any time you hit a bump, [you're] taken back to that day."
Aside from the mental and emotional toll, there was the question of whether or not the band would physically be able to continue. Drummer Dan Sneddon and guitarist Tyler Jensen both sustained serious injuries in the crash.
"Tyler broke ribs, broke a clavicle," says Brock. "He had bruised lungs. There's a bone that connects your rib cage to your back — he broke that bone. He couldn't do anything. He couldn't even hold a guitar for months."
Eventually the band reconvened, bringing Funeral Pyre vocalist John Strachan into the fold.
"It was just a slow, natural progression of, 'All right, we can't do anything,' and then we could play a little bit, and then, 'What are we going to do for a singer?' " Brock explains. "The only person that ever really came to mind was John."
The band's first show back was Southern Lord's Power of the Riff festival in 2011. The previous year's Power of the Riff was supposed to be the last show of their tour with Daniels.
After sporadic festival appearances and one-offs, Early Graves eventually started working on their third album, Red Horse. The follow-up to Goner leans more metal than its predecessor. While Daniels' bark hewed closer to a hardcore delivery, Strachan's is borne out of black metal. But on Red Horse, Strachan's raspier growl brings Early Graves' Swedish death-metal influences closer to the fore — not to mention that sometimes Strachan sounds a lot like Tomas Lindberg of At the Gates and Disfear.
"With the songs that we ended up writing for Red Horse, unintentionally it ended up being a lot more metal," Brock admits. "That was never the plan, but that just kind of happened. And it worked really well, because John's voice works so well with that."
It's not a drastic change from the first two albums, but a band that loses one of their most distinctive features will likely end up messing with the template a bit. And for Brock, that means feeling things out as they go.
"We just kind of let it happen organically," he says. "After that [first] show [back], it wasn't like, 'All right, we're going to be a band, and we're going to fucking go on tour forever.' It was, 'Let's see what happens next.' "
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