Friday, May 20, 2011

One-Off Wonder: Web of Dharma - Graves - 2002

Rising from the ashes of the Misfits Mark II, vocalist Michale Graves and drummer Dr. Chud formed the almost-immediate Graves and quickly turned out one very good, barely-heard, still-hard-to-find album, Web of Dharma. Graves featured "Left Hand Graham" Westfield, of Sound & Fury and Fast Times, on bass and Tom Logan, from Angelsin and The Empire Hideous, on guitar. Web of Dharma appeared on Michale Graves' website just months after the final incarnation of the band was formed. I got my own copy through the frequently-changing site via old-school "print out an order form and mail with a check" e-commerce and I am sure there were also copies for sale at the band's few shows during their short-lived run.

Graves' sound was not any radical departure from the latter-day Misfits and the production, by the band themselves, is about what one would expect for a DIY release such as this. And that's what makes Web of Dharma so disarming. In 2002 it was refreshing to hear real, immediate music recorded and presented to fans in a hurry. It may not be punk rock in the purest sense but the ethos was genuine. Barely more than demos, every song Graves laid out on Web of Dharma makes it readily apparent that Michale Graves was not only the brains and driving force behind the new Misfits' success but also that perhaps the band was holding him back. "1 Million Light Years from Her" retains the sci-fi vibe while melding perfectly somehow into a forelorn love song in the same way that Famous Monsters' "Saturday Night" blended slasher terror with '50s-era date nights.

"Casket," another highlight from the album, really connects Graves with his 'Fits forefather, Glenn Danzig, in that he tells a horrible tale but we come in right in the middle. You never know how the playgrounds were emptied and what exactly makes the stuff of bad dreams but I would wager Astro-Zombies may have been involved.

"Shoestring" comes in near the album's end and is, in my opinion, Graves' finest moment. The band provides their best instrumentation on record and Michale's interstellar lyric flows like a stream of consciousness poem: ...falling through space again / the sea water's deep and swollen / try to gain control of the controls / I'm losing control...

Ultimately, Web of Dharma - and the band Graves - are most special in their brevity. If you weren't paying attention right then, you missed it. After one year Graves as we knew it was gone, Dr. Chud and Michale Graves split ways and Graves morphed into the even-shorter-lived Gotham Road (whose own great one-off collection of demos is heavier stuff in the same vein and can be purchased as a download on Michale Graves' site). Web of Dharma has briefly reappeared on Michale Graves' websites only to be withdrawn almost as quickly (reportedly due to copyright disagreements with Dr. Chud) and remains a rare find, even online (as of this writing a single copy sits on for over $80). Should you happen to come across a copy at a used shop, snatch it up. Michale Graves has released several other records, all with their good points but none yet as urgent, inspired and brimming with potential as Web of Dharma.

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