Graveshadow's metal symphonies to gods and queens

The Sacramento band’s epic take on metal mixes thrash, doom, sci-fi and fantasy

Is this George R. R. Martin’s favorite band?

Is this George R. R. Martin’s favorite band?

photo by lisa baetz

Catch Graveshadow at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 9, at Ace of Spades, 1417 R Street. Tickets are $20. Learn more at

Sunday, April 12, is William Walker III’s birthday. He will get drunk and watch the Game of Thrones season premiere, and it will be perfect.

Walker plays guitar in local symphonic metal band Graveshadow, which surprisingly has just one song dedicated to Game of Thrones. “Blood and Fire” is a tribute to dragon queen Daenerys Targaryen, but Walker also has fuzzy visions of songs about the Boltons, Bran Stark and Robert Baratheon, before the drunken hedonism set in.

“We’re interested in telling stories and creating an experience instead of just making a political statement,” Walker says. “I got my start in punk; it’s a lot of fun and a great way to educate people. But for our style of music, playing the role of the bard fits better.”

Enter “Blink,” the band’s most doomy track about the predatory Weeping Angels from Doctor Who. Or a three-part concept about Thrall from the World of Warcraft? That’s in the works. Keyboardist Valerie Hudak pitched a song about The Hunger Games and the band seems on board—as long as they ignore the third book.

“I love stories about women who don’t apologize for anything,” Hudak says. “Especially stories that focus on inspiring revolutions.”

Graveshadow dabbles with personal songs, but generally the six-piece is drawn toward the deep lore of science fiction and fantasy. It fits with Graveshadow’s epic sound—a mix of symphonic, thrash, doom and gothic metal. With a completely collaborative songwriting style, each member weaves his or her background into the result: Walker and guitarist Matt Mitchell come from thrash, punk and heavy metal; Hudak from symphonic metal; drummer Roman Anderson from doom and black metal; bassist Bill Armstrong from jazz; and singer Heather Smith from pop and heavy metal.

So instead of just symphonic metal, which can get a little repetitive and simplistic, listeners are treated to unusual breakdowns, bridges and mid-song transformations. Thrash and doom elements bring complexity.

Smith was actually the last to join the band, and a female frontwoman wasn’t always in the game plan. That changed once they heard her growl.

“That was really impressive,” Hudak remembers. “This sweet and cute, bubbly girl could turn into a powerful force on stage that can do just about anything—growl, scream, operatic vocals, beautiful vocals. It gives a lot of diversity to the sound.”

Graveshadow’s diversity will be showcased on its first full-length album, which features the band’s remixed, remastered five-song EP from last summer along with three new tracks. No release plans just yet, but it’s being produced by Matt Thomas of FallRise and mixed by Emil Nödtveidt of Swedish gothic metal band Deathstars. Ralf Scheepers of German power metal band Primal Fear is providing guest vocals on “Blink,” the aforementioned Doctor Who song.

How did Graveshadow snag such big names for its debut? When the band opened for thrash-metal veterans Flotsam and Jetsam at the Boardwalk last July, the headliner’s manager Jeff Keller approached Walker to offer a little consulting. Consulting turned into full-blown management and connections to international metal artists.

In the mean time, Graveshadow will keep toying with new, fantastical song concepts, such as one about Game of Thrones character Cersei Lannister. Well, maybe not one about Cersei Lannister. As Mitchell notes, “Nothing says ’great song’ like incest.”