Photo by Denise Borders/

Early Graves "Red Horse"

Red Horse—the latest release from San Francisco metal band Early Graves—describes an outfit toughened by constant adversity. As guitarist Chris Brock describes it, the title is a reference to numerous obstacles that have threatened to derail the band, including the terrible loss of founding vocalist Makh Daniels to a fatal 2010 van accident while the band was touring to support their second album, Goner.

After months of hibernation and emotional recovery, the remaining members of Early Graves, as well as new vocalist John Strachan (also of Funeral Pyre), returned to the studio with a vengeance, recording the most focused and succinct record of the band’s career. Red Horse has fewer of the noisier textures and dragging moments of feedback that were hallmarks of 2008’s We: The Guillotine and Goner. “We wanted to make literally every second count,” says Brock. “We didn’t want long transitions between songs—we wanted to do the most we could possibly do in 30 minutes.”

As evidenced on Red Horse and previous Early Graves albums, Brock’s style ties together thrash, punk, and early hardcore influences—with riffs that often come from the same school as Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman and Morbid Angel’s Trey Azagthoth—but his style also somehow still manages to pull from the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Thin Lizzy, and Black Flag. “We definitely have punk and death metal riffs,” he explains, “but in more of a rock ’n’ roll structure.”

Brock is an unabashed fan of the Gibson Les Paul. “When I was young and learning to play the guitar, I was really into all of the metal guitars that were cool at the time. But when I got older and got my first real guitar, it was a Gibson Les Paul Studio. There’s just something about Les Pauls that I can’t describe—they feel the most natural to me, and they sound gigantic.

“I want to have to really battle the guitar,” he says. “While I’m writing a riff, the feeling and sound from fighting the Les Paul is part of what tells me I’m playing a good riff. The experience of playing one translates directly to my writing.”

Chris Brock (right) rocks out with Early Graves' new vocalist John Strachan (left). Photo by Denise Borders /

Both Brock and guitarist Tyler Jensen mainly rely on Gibson Les Paul Studios when playing live, and both are loaded with Lace humbuckers. “I’ve got a set of Nitro-Hemis in my Studio, and Tyler’s got a set of Drop N Gains in his,” says Brock. “It’s really hard to cover mistakes when playing a Les Paul, because the notes sound so huge. The Lace Nitro-Hemis take that to the next level—they’re so clear sounding that it was almost frightening when I first used them. They don’t roll off the gain, but they make everything sound so much clearer. I totally love them.”

Both guitarists also used Brock’s completely stock Gibson Les Paul Standard with Burstbucker pickups to record Red Horse’s solos and the few clean guitar tracks. “I never felt the need to change the pickups, because it just sounds great as it is. I love using the neck pickup for solos—it just sounds so smooth and even.”

Although Brock is always open to trying new amps, he and Jensen are devotees of Mesa/Boogie Dual and Triple Rectifiers, specifically the 2-channel models made from the early to mid ’90s—in fact, he just traded an ESP Ron Wood T-style guitar for an old ’95 Dual Rec. Like many hardcore Recto fans, Brock says his all-time favorite Rectifier is what enthusiasts refer to as a “revision G,” and he insists there’s a huge difference between the feel and body of older, 2-channel Rectos and the more modern 3-channel models. “I love trying everything, but I always come back to my old Triple Rectifier. I just don’t think I’ve played anything else that fits me and how I play as well as that amp.”