There is an urban myth that did the rounds about a few years ago. It concerns the editor of the incredibly well informed and, some would say, most on the ball fanzine to be found among the cast aside chip papers and club flyers on the pavements of Devonshire Green.
The story goes that said editor disappeared for 36 hours and was found clutching his laptop and the remains of a Oyster Stout in the Rutland Arms. He was visibly shaken. Before he would enter into conversation he opened his laptop and pressed “send”. He looked up visibly unnerved and whispered “Black Tar Prophecies” before heading into the darkened streets of Sheffield. In the forgotten Peak District hills an inbox pinged.
It was mine and the Grails obsession was born.
Black Tar Prophecies 1,2 & 3 is , of course, an almost legendary 2006 release by Grails, who began their career in Portland around 2000. Their dark and brooding cinematic soundscapes were too inventive to be grouped alongside other “post rock” outfits. Mysterious and otherworldly offerings such as the soul worrying Burning off Impurities became essential listening to a growing band of disciples. The mind blowing Deep Politics unloaded itself on an unsuspecting world in 2011. Those who heard it were ecstatic while the rest of the world carried on enjoying re-runs of “Friends” and getting a take -away. Deep Politics had arrived. A complex affair revealing an intensity of a different kind. Deep Politics appeared, dare I breathe it, melodic? Even mellow in places.
As if called back to some otherworldly dimension, Grails simply stopped. Other projects came to light and faded during the next six years: Lilacs and Champagne, Holy Sons and Watter.
The Grails we knew were dark and brooding, infused with all kinds of atmospheres, heavy dub and bruising guitars. Excursions into stoner rock territory and psychedelic acid jams were not uncommon. Exotic middle Eastern motifs strayed into progressive psychedelic jams.
Now in 2017, we have Chalice Hymnal. A new Grails album, at last!
So allow me a flight of fancy. Two movies, Vampyros Lesbos and More get together and make a baby. What would this offspring sound like when it wails? Well, I am suggesting Chalice Hymnal would be an obvious candidate for this sound. This Grails offering is different. The dark cavernous heaviness of, say, Doomsdayer’s Holiday has retreated somewhat so the feeling that you are living through the opening of 28 Days Later is no longer there, haunting your speakers with desperate pleas for “hello”.
In the past, Grails majestically strode across the bridge linking metal and rock often dropping interludes of dark folk in just to keep us alert and mystified. Chalice Hymnal, while retaining a dark side, is a more refined and cultured affair. Of course, being completely instrumental it is only when track four ‘New Prague’ kicks in do you think “Ah, Grails!”. There is nothing particularly demanding in Chalice Hymnal but damn it, the thing is intelligent, inventive, and downright intriguing. The mellowness of ‘Deeper Politics’ gives way to a pulsating ‘Tough Guy’ complete with electronic dabbling. ‘Moth and Flame’ is as Floydian as you like, brooding and atmospheric, just what the doctor/director ordered.
Earlier, I alluded to movies and the hour long Chalice Hymnal has that soundtrack vibe, the whole set is mature and ultimately very satisfying. Opener ‘Empty Chamber’ is smooth and almost gentle, mellow even, layered and smooth. Later ‘Rebecca’ has the same widescreen feel. Welcome to the new improved Grails with added chill factor.
Grails‘ career has encompassed wide and diverse territory. They have fearlessly done their own thing and Chalice Hymnal is about as satisfying as it gets.