Delivered in a plain paper sleeve, this ubiquitous black disc is the debut studio release of Edgar Graves’ brainchild, The Cemetery Boys. This minimal packaging is an extension of The Cemetery Boys’ minimal aesthetic, and theirs is a surprisingly welcome approach in an age where computer music has given artists almost limitless options for expression. Produced by Hampton Roads’ own Patrick Walsh, the only instruments besides voice you’ll hear on this album are drums and electric bass guitar. If the sound of that makes you feel a little skeptical, don’t worry. You’ve probably never heard bass guitar sound quite like this.
If you neglected to notice the absence of a guitarist credit on the label or have never seen the band live before, you may not even realize right away that there’s no guitarist. “At Midnite,” the albums first song, begins with what sounds like a distant guitar riff buried in radio fuzz, but it’s quickly revealed that there is some seriously impressive low end here as the introductory facade gives way to the actual song. This witch’s brew of distortion and tone that Mr. Graves has created for his bass acts as a glue in the mix, binding everything together without the need for complex harmonies or too many complimenting elements. I mean it when I say his tone sounds BIG!
You might think that such a small act would need to resort to virtuosity and showiness to keep things interesting, but that’s not really what you’ll find here. While Ed is an exceptional bass player with nigh impeccable timing, having written and performed with a drum machine for many years, this is good ol’ fashioned rock & roll songwriting and, while he indulges in the occasional solo when a song calls for it, his arrangements are absolutely void of pretension.
Speaking of, while the band’s overall sound is what’s most unique about them, what’s most refreshing about The Cemetery Boys are Ed Grave’s lyrics. Where so many bands who delve into doom and gloom for source inspiration try to walk that fine line between embarrassing pretension and great poetry, Ed Graves, wisely and with great affection, simply wears his love of old-school horror movies on his sleeve. From haunted hotels to the original Frankenstein movie, these songs are wrought with warm nostalgia and reverence for a time when the art of shock and special effects in cinema was just beginning to be realized.
Some potential problems do exist here. While these 9 songs are fun, they’re not particularly long. With an average run-time of only about two and a half minutes, the album reaches the benchmark for “number-of-songs-to-be-considered-an-album,” but you may still feel like it ends too soon. The final track, Transylvania, a slow hulking song that really takes advantage of the bass’s low range, ends on a somewhat tense note, which is good insofar as it leaves you wishing for more, but it’s also a little dissatisfying in that you feel a little surprised when you have to reach for the replay button. Once you’ve restarted the album, though, any grievance is quickly forgiven as the fun, catchy, and just-barely-over-the-top spookiness continues to put a smile on your face.
It remains a legitimate challenge to see if Mr. Graves and “The Boys” can write a longer collection of material for another release without exposing too much limitation in their minimal approach and/or expand upon their sound without abandoning that practically trademark tone. With such a strong debut, however, the expectation for a follow-up seems like a good problem to have and, frankly, if Mr. Graves can keep in good standing with his muse (who I imagine might look a little like Elvira), a little “more of the same” might be all that’s required.
There’s still plenty more to write about in the horror lexicon, after all. I mean, I haven’t heard a song about zombies yet, *wink wink.*
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