Album Review: Grails – ‘Chalice Hymnal’

Grails, hail from Portland, Oregon. A seaport state nestled under Washington and characterised by its diverse landscape of forests, mountains, farms and beaches. That Pacific Northwest essence runs through the centre of the Grails sound.  A sound that expounds on the spectral spaghetti Western side of their oeuvre, marked by tasteful excursions into passages of sun bleached acid-psych and jazz-infused progressive rock.

Comprising of the founders Alex Hall and Emil Amos the ‘Chalice Hymanl’ line up also includes members of Hall’s other group ‘Lilacs & Champagne’, Amos’ meditative metal band ‘Om’, the singer/songwriter project ‘Holy Sons’ and Zak Riles of experimental kraut-psych trio ‘Watter’. The album, produced by the band in its current manifest incarnation, has been five years in the making.

The title track and opener ‘Chalice Hymnal’ envelops me in a satisfying sense of euphoric mystery and reminds me of the exit music from classic movies from the ‘Golden Harvest’ production house. Oriental melodies layered over the wane and wail of echoed reverb electric guitar form patterns and tell a tale. This, crafting of cinematic imagery through sound is a recurrent them throughout the excellent album.  The LP’s first single release ‘Pelham’ follows continuing the filmic flow with a dramatic funk worthy of any John Carpenter score and sampling by Wu-Tangs, RZA. The haunting Rhodes and moog sweeps of ‘Empty Chamber’ thicken the plot amidst a first flourish of choral vocals. Setting with the sun and glistening in the haze of a city’s evening mist, then gone. Exposing a darker underbelly, ‘New Prague’, injects a dose of fizzing, menacing, Diamond Head fuzz psych and overdriven Cliff Burton-esq bass distortion.

The distant drone of reverb dripped harmonica that runs under the piano lead of ‘Deeper Politics’ entwines with synth layers forging an electro-prog hybrid that submerges the listener into unknown fathoms drawn in by a profound resonance, both musically and emotionally. ‘Tough Guy’ and ‘Rebecca’ fall as meditative excursions in the deep, welcome respite on our expedition.

In nigh on six minutes of evocative soundtrack ‘Deep Snow II’ stimulates the visual cortex with clean, sparing acoustic tonalities, woven through broken waves of muted fuzz distortion. The splash and spray of cymbals crash over rumble drums and electrifying harmonics. No adventure is complete without a love interest and a siren’s beguiling prayer wheel drone draws us in like ‘The Moth & The Flame’, a dance we all know well. Awaking a long way from shore, deserted in the desert, that familiar western steel acoustic heat bears down as we persevere through ‘Thorns II’ with drum-funk. As the metaphoric curtain falls on the album, we’re elevated to a place of spiritual safety via a concluding ten-minute-long ‘Endtroducing’ worthy mantra. A pensive, brooding, yet ultimately mindful, breath of instrumental karmic assurance, amidst the tempestuous backdrop of change. As strings cascade to the mellotrons’ mysticism and hellish horns echo in a jazz funk melancholy, we’re left, but for the scrolling of the final credits, heavenly adrift ‘After the Funeral’.

Grails new album, ‘Chalice Hymnal’ will be released by Temporary Residence Ltd on the 17th February and its brilliant!

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