Grails’ six-year disappearance ends with dark, psyche-edged seventh opus ‘Chalice Hymnal’

Photo by Rebecca Steele

Photo by Rebecca Steele

It’s been pretty refreshing the past few years that there has been a branching of musical acceptance among many metal fans to go beyond their comfort zone and embrace other styles of music that at least bleed into their territory. The darkwave movement is a good example, as the murky shadows can creep under your skin like the spookiest of black metal and influence you in the same way. That also goes for quieter, folkish sounds that have made their way into the recipe.

Portland, Ore., band Grails has been an originator among artists that don’t necessarily target metal audiences but have penetrated the gates nonetheless. Ever since their birth into the world nearly two decades ago, the largely instrumental band has traveled through so many terrains, from dry desert folk to smoking doom to post-rock fire. It’s always hard to pinpoint exactly that they are, and that continues on their great new record “Chalice Hymnal,” their seventh full-length overall and first in six years since “Deep Politics.” As Grails are wont to do, they change the script a bit on these 11 new tracks. Strains from the band’s path very much are a part of the picture. But there also are nice doses of the aforementioned darkwave, as well as an urban nighttime feel, as if you’re driving passenger side long after the sun went done and are watching the stars pass by as you gaze into the windshield. The band—Zak Riles, Emil Amos (OM, Holy Sons), William Slater, Alex Hall—also continue to pour psychedelic heat into the mix, making for one of Grails’ most contemplative and stimulating records to date.

grails-coverThe title track begins the record as keys swirl, static beats kick up, and the synth sails on a sea splashed with evening colors. A hazy ’80s feel comes out of all this, with the song breezing into the nighttime. “Pelham” is the first one with the darkwave sense, as guitars whine and noise agitates, taking the song into ’70s sun splash; while “Empty Chamber” is very chilled out, with spacey sounds, smooth singing entering the mix, and with you left feeling like you’ve swept into a long, winding dream. “New Prague” is psyched out, with doom dropping and filthy melodies, while cool synth blows into the back end of the track, letting things burn and charge. “Deeper Politics” has dark keys and the urban edge we mentioned, with the song feeling bigger and more boisterous as synth scrapes its path. “Tough Guy” delves into Far Eastern tastes before echoes pulse, and from there, strange tones mix with a threatening vibe.

“Rebecca” sails into cooler waters, as chimes gives off a sense of calm, and the track feels like it’s floating on your imagination. “Deep Snow II” has quivering cosmic sounds that run right into rustic acoustic guitars. Electrics later bleed in, while a folkish and murky vibe dominates, and psyche-filled guitars light up the night. “The Moth & the Flame” has bending bass and cool keys, with the pace hitting high gear, and shadowy melodies leading the end of the cut into mysterious terrain. “Thorns II” has more acoustics, pushing into psyche folk that’s encased in gold, while guitars wash over the surface, and the song fades away. “After the Funeral” is the longest track by far at 10:19, with keys dripping in, and a gentle, elegant haze overtaking the scene. Horns settle, while exotic melodies arrive, sitting on reflective strings before the song fades with just a couple minutes left, only to re-emerge bathed in noise that smothers the thing in fuzz.

Grails’ music can make your flesh crawl and your insides chill out within the same melody line, and there are plenty of physical reactions you’re bound to have when absorbing “Chalice Hymnal.” My most rewarding experiences with this music has been at night, but that’s just how these songs affected me. Regardless, this band has another burst of mostly instrumental cuts that won’t have you clenching your fists in rage but can let you connect to your other impulses perhaps ignored a little too often.

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