Monday, March 23, 2009
Grails: Doomsdayer's Holiday
There is lots of heavy right now in underground music with varying labels attached to all the different kinds of heaviness--- sludge, doom, stoner, etc--- but these are starting to feel a little inhibiting. Many of the musicians playing within whatever mode these words try and conjure are themselves stepping beyond them. I've always had a place in my musical consciousness that can only turn on with heaviness. As a child, I would steal into my older brother's room and listen to Alice Cooper, David Bowie's Diamond Dogs, and even the heavier prog stuff of that era. Later this preoccupation would find years of release with hardcore punk. But the one kind of music that never opened up this particular third eye was heavy metal. Maybe it was because in the 80s it all seemed so polished. There was heaviness, but there wasn't any noise. There was feedback, but even this felt contrived and somehow neutered. And even those metal bands that could match the speed and ferocity of hardcore were too articulate to sound authentic.
Lately I have been missing the heaviness. It's not just about rock, it's about something else, about the kind of heaviness that can open up that particular portal for me, the aspect of awareness that requires volcanic shifts, the cracking of seismic plates, the creaking of icebergs. But while there is certainly some very good heavy heavy music nowadays their main point of reference is still the growling, crushing metal that never lit my pilot. I certainly can groove to Mastadon, I appreciate Earth and SunnO))) in the best philosophical terms, and I love me some Growing and Boris (although Boris's live show in RI last year was kind of bummer), but I have been patiently hunting for some heaviness that could get me really excited again.
So begins my love affair with Grails.
The first song I heard by the them was "Reincarnation Blues" from their new album Doomsdayer's Holiday, (but I was pleased to see they already have a decent catalog of recordings). "Reincarnation Blues" opens with a call to prayer of sorts, a lone horn in the distance setting up the terms of the incantation, and then wham! Never mind the middle chamber, these guys take you right into the holy of holies.
And while the guitar driven intensity of Doomsdayer's Holiday is rooted in classic rock, it's references are more Meddle than Paranoid. The difference between prog heaviness and metal heaviness is that the former absorbs more from classical music and folk, whereas metal has traditionally been buyoed by blues. I realize much metal depends on classical music, but there is little room for the improvised as it tends toward precision and direct assault. (And don't even get me started on my dislike for thrash-metal) Underground metal has certainly expanded the range, and even a band like Growing--whose album All the Way is one of my favorites from last year--keep a foot in the metal genre while sounding wholly unique.
Ok so I'm blabbering on here. Let me get to the point. Grails is defining underground music right now, and I imagine them having the same impact as Sun City Girls and even SunnO))). There is real power here, but it's not all bravado or machismo. I liken it to how it must have felt hearing Cream for the first time in the 60s, a storm of sound that had at its core something oddly familiar, but not deriviative. I know Grails are being billed as kind of avant-metal, but I just hear something else here, something that just upends all the silliness and theatrical graveness of so much metal and does it without irony, but also without taking themselves too seriously.
I went back and listened to the previous album, Take Refuge in Clean Living, where I can really hear them fulfilling the promise of Sun City Girls. SCG were almost too hermetic for their own good, and it often feels like you need the Emerald Tablet to really listen to them. (I am digging the solo Sir Richard Bishop material, however.) But Grails weave and thread a dynamic array of instruments and sounds that seems to teach you the language as you listen. The incorporation of Eastern melodies and raga is just the perfect complement to their sound.
But never mind all this all this musical blah blah blah. Grails nail it for me. I just can't get enough of this stuff.
--Grails: Reincarnation Blues
--Grails: Take Refuge in Clean Living (only a sample from the label site, but enough to know you have to get this album