Beginner’s luck is an interesting concept that all too often gets levied against someone in a manner that discounts their hard work or experience. If you should happen to be playing Black Jack for the first time in your life and win the first 10 hands in a row, that might be beginner’s luck. Even then, if you have ever played a game that utilizes a standard deck of cards and you have a basic understanding of arithmetic, then you actually have a pretty solid chance at getting some wins. When it comes to bands finding success with early releases, however, chances are they put uncountable hours of effort into its creation while networking with people who can help get those tunes in the right hands.
Attention and compliments for this EP are well deserved as Mother of Graves announce themselves to a wintry 2021 with four snow-covered gravesites of somber death metal that harken back to the 90s output of bands like Paradise Lost, Katatonia and My Dying Bride. If all the sadboi singing those bands incorporate into what they do now leaves you crying for some burlier riffs and bellows, allow In Somber Dreams to freeze those tears and crush your skull like a speed skier hitting a tree.
The EPs third track, “The Urn,” may be the best song to offer as a single sample to give you an idea of what Mother of Graves does best. It opens with a massive riff that is downright hummable and will get stuck in your head. Once you’re hooked on that catchy bit, they cut into a stretch of clean guitars with soft drumming that keeps the song moving while feeling a bit introspective. That segment continues to build on itself with added layers of guitar and other instruments that help the momentum ratchet up before it all drops out for a quick bass run and mighty roar to kick the song back into top gear. Brandon Howe’s vocals reside in the Swallow the Sun camp with a sturdy tent pole made of Frank Mullen clarity. Even during repeated riffs in “The Urn” the rest of the band is constantly shifting and building to never let the song feel redundant. A prime example is when they let the piano play the same pattern as the main riff before letting it ring out with electric power once more to close the song on a hefty note.
The other three songs on In Somber Dreams, however, have plenty to offer as well. The title track opens with a gorgeous and despondent riff, features some Nordic clean vocals, and one of the fastest sections of the EP. “Nameless Burial” takes the listener down a more ominous path and wallows in a dramatic atmosphere with some slow, eerie piano parts. They end In Somber Dreams with a steady march in the form of the very driven “Deliverance.” This closer offers an ambient stretch that’s anchored by the bass to keep you from floating too far off, but finished with an absolutely killer Opethian crush that could easily nestle itself in that band’s song of the same name.
Nothing about the production, songwriting, or quality of play on this EP says that it’s a debut, but rather feels like a release that would come out between two albums 10-15 years into a solid career. Have Dan Swanö do the mix certainly helps in that department. Only a slew of great future releases will be able to tell us whether or not there was even a dash of beginner’s luck involved with In Somber Dreams, but we can count ourselves plenty lucky that the world of heavy metal EPs is starting 2021 this strong.