Grails - Chalice Hymnal

by Sean Hewson Rating:7 Release Date:2017-02-17

Chalice Hymnal is Grails’ sixth album and their first in six years. All the band members presumably having been kept busy by their other bands (Lilacs & Champagne, OM, Holy Sons, and Watter) and projects.

Chalice Hymnal is eleven tracks of immaculately arranged, tasteful, cinematic music that starts with the strings and drum beat of the title track. It’s not quite hissy enough to be Trip-Hop but it’s still smoky and atmospheric. Pelham is more driving and tense. It wouldn’t be out of place on one of the post-Drive, Synthwave soundtracks that appear regularly. However, it’s a bit more lush-sounding and more in line with Majeure or Steve Moore. Empty Chamber is another change of pace. It is slower and has some vocals. The vocal melody reminds me of something from If I Could Only Remember My Name by David Crosby. New Prague breaks from the cinematic feel and starts with growling noise and an almost Doom-like guitar, as the bass line wanders up the neck and the Wah-wah is cracked out. Soon haunting sounds start to slowly take over. It is the most skilful and surprising arrangement on the album. Piano, electric piano and strings give Deeper Politics a moody feel but it’s all held together by a huge, fuzz bass. The strings on this have a really sweet 70s Soul feel to them. Again, a really clever combination of sound and feels. Tough Guy, as with Pelham, slightly subverts 80s synth soundtracks by applying modern production techniques. The beat here is very Trip-Hop. There are a lot of tremolo effects and there’s something quite Dubby about the bassline.

Rebecca, with its moody intro and primitive drum machine is where I start to lose interest ever so slightly. Deep Snow II does surprise by adding acoustic guitar and a quirky time signature, but feels a little long. As does The Moth & The Flame, with its Mick Karn bass and slow, Hip-Hop beat. Thorns II is better, combining acoustic guitar with a Tortoise-like feel and a pretty tune. After The Funeral is a 10 minute epic, starting with piano and trembling strings. It could come from The Godfather until the drums come in and it sounds like something by Isaac Hayes. It’s great but, at 10 minutes, a bit too long.

Chalice Hymnal has a full, rich sound with treble, middle and bass; chords and single notes; slow and fast melodies. Often all in the same song. There’s such depth to the arrangements that songs, which are usually over four minutes long, generally feel like short themes that fly by. However, the accomplished playing, arrangements and production; and a few longer tracks in the second half of the album lead to the interest starting to wane a bit. It is immaculate, but maybe a little too immaculate.

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