Review Summary: Porn for audiophiles.
It was around 2003 when Neurot Recordings was relentlessly bringing relatively unknown bands to the tapestry. Back then I had just discovered Neurosis a few years before and A Sun That Never Sets
was basically my summer romance. Amber Asylum, Oxbow and Tarantula Hawk were among the many bands that started roaming the Neurot universe, a brand that was growing its seed on me very quickly but none of them came closely to the crushing impact that Grails had on my medulla oblongata.
Their debut release, Burden of Hope, showed an approach to post-rock that introduced elements from folk and world music pushing the genre's frontlines to uncharted territory, a policy that they would follow strictly release after release and that has helped them to put quite some distance in between other similar bands.
After a six years break from their previous LP Deep Politics
, Grail's founding members awake the project’s long slumber and gather once more to kindle the flame. Emil Amos, the mastermind behind the project who one day bangs drums like a boss and the other he plays a mean steel guitar, depending on the weather, is also known for his solo project, the prolific Holy Sons, and also for being part of the almighty OM. Alex Hall, the guitar wizard that has also collaborated with Neurosis very own Steve Von Till in his side project, Harvestman, has also been working with Amos in their parallel adventure, the all goes-hop Lilacs & Champagne. And finally we have Zak Riles, in charge of the acoustic department and the latest member to join the fray, who has also worked with instrumental super-combo Watter, alongside Slint's drummer, Britt Waldford.
With such a covenant of personalities and the constant addition of musicians coming in and out of the band, it’s easy to say that the music of Grails is quite hard to describe. Whereas at the beginning it would be decently accurate to label them as some sort of post-rock, Grails have always taken the hard road, experimenting, evolving, switching instruments on live shows and playing with different dynamics and genres. There has always been a common element to their music though, and that is their incredible ability to create, release and maintain tension, building up their songs to bombastic crescendos that finally blow up leaving a delicate stream of sound slightly beating, like a fainted heart, weak and slowly dying.
is Grails' 10th release and, I have to say, after 14 years they have come a very long way. Grails have incorporated elements that I, honestly, never thought they would. Brushes of trip hop, lounge and electronic music now become a graceful fusion with their already perfected post-psyche formula, while keeping that blissful Morricone character that started infecting Grails' music since Deep Politics
It’s 2017 and Grails have grown more cinematic than ever, with Chalice Hymnal
functioning perfectly as a movie score while there are still moments of the old Grails that refuse to die, wild behaving with the screaming guitars of "New Prague", flirting with psychedelic rock like the good old days of Doomsdayer's Holiday
, right after being absolutely exposed by the breath-taking nudity of "Empty Chamber", one of the most beautiful and chilled out tracks the band has ever delivered. Chalice Hymnal
reflects every musical facet their members have been polishing for the past years, both as musicians and as obsessive vinyl hunters, establishing Grails as an unleashed creative force capable of doing basically anything they want and owning it. Proofs of that versatility are both the dreamy feel of the title track and album opener, cracking up with Amos’ superb drumming, an aspect that would need its own review, and Hall and Riles' welcoming melodies. Without giving much away, I would only say that the album drags and traps the listener with no mercy, with several high moments like the Mesopotamic riffs of “Tough Guy” or the wonderful acoustic arrangements of "Thorns II” and “Deep Snow II”, a continuation of their previous album’s closer track. The link between Deep Politics
and Chalice Hymnal
is so seamless and natural that both albums flow perfectly when played one after the other.
Not content with the already outstanding display of the first 10 tracks, Grails decide to close the act with “After the Funeral", a 10 minute magnum opus that serves as a proper melancholic and post-orgasmic send-off to the pleasures catalogue that is Chalice Hymnal
, an album that could very well be Grails' best work up to date and hell, why not, probably one of the best instrumental outputs of the year.