- by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date: Label:
While many a reviewer will be quick to label any instrumental or post-rock music as cinematic, the term really couldn’t be more apt when describing the sounds produced by Portland’s Grails. Revolving around founding members Alex Hall and Emil Amos, the band’s music is utterly in thrall to the world of cinema. From 1970’s giallo soundtracks to the sweeping scores of Ennio Morricone, the band’s music evokes all things widescreen.
Before Amos and Co take to the stage it’s time for a set from experimental guitarist and Grails member, Ilya’s Ahmed. Ahmed has worked with Grouper’s Liz Harris on numerous occasions and that love of strange, ambient textures and dreamlike instrumentation comes through during in tonight’s performance.
Stood to the left of the stage and silhouetted against the wall, Ahmed’s set goes about creating an atmospheric prism of sound. The ambient, loose, vibes gradually building into something darker, louder and more frazzled; nightmares seeping in through the music’s dreamy ambience. He starts to sing at around the 10 minute mark, providing a subtle and understated guide through the sound. The set is one continuous piece, the audience silent throughout.
Ahmed appears again when he takes to the stage with Grails. It’s time for the main feature. Emil Amos takes his place behind the drum kit with two guitarists, a bass player and a synth/piano player making up the rest of the band. Opening with the jazzy, smoky textures of ‘Daughters of Bilitis’, we’re immediately drawn into Grails deeply atmospheric world.
‘New Prague’ from last year’s Chalice Hymnal brings snarling psychedelia to the table while the almost John Carpenter-esque rush of ‘Pelham’ expertly combines electronica and rock. You can hear the influences that Amos brought to Om when he joined them back in 2008. In turn there are echoes of Al Cisneros in tonight’s immersive, wholly hypnotic bass lines.
Emil swops to guitar for a while about half way through, giving himself a rest from pounding the skins and giving us a chance to hear his equally impressive guitar skills. It has to be said that the whole band is insanely talented and thoroughly, wholeheartedly, lost in music. The bands cover of the title track from a 1972 Italian giallo film, ‘All the Colours of the Dark’ serves as both a nod to their influences and a chance to expand on them.
The recorded versions are impressive enough yet live they become larger than life. It’s Floyd at Pompeii relocated to a sweaty gig room in Leeds. The sound is lush and unreservedly ambitious with the band seamlessly switching between cavernous, prog-like structures, Morricone-esque grandeur and Eastern-tinged metal riffing. A truly epic soundtrack to the imaginary film playing out in my head.
Wish I had been there , great review thanks .