Sunday, October 26, 2008

Grails - Doomsdayer's Holiday

'Reincarnation Blues' (Edit)

Temporary Residence Limited Grails "Doomsdayer's Holiday" TRR144

"Following up last year's Burning Off Impurities and their recent Take Refuge In Clean Living EP, Grails return with their darkest, heaviest record yet. Written and recorded over the last 18 months, Doomsdayer's Holiday delivers on the promises made by their previous albums, taking equal pride in smoky psychedelics and mountain-ascending riffs. With Faust, Earth and Sunn O))) collaborators acting as engineers - not to mention drummer Emil Amos having recently become the new other half of Om - Grails' avant-metal leanings are evident as always. But Doomsdayer's Holiday finds their already-broad palette continually expanding with 70s European film noir and cosmic free jazz explorations complimenting the Middle Eastern psychedelic folk-metal the group is already known for. After a wildly prolific three-year streak that saw the band ceaselessly pushing forward, Grails have finally made an album that pushes back."


1. sticker

2. reverse of album cover

3. record playing on turntable

4. (below) gold coloured record on sleeve

So after a short delay when the records were shipped to TRL on (horror!) ordinary black vinyl, and had to be repressed (anyone know if vinyl can be melted down and recycled into new records, or are there just a bunch of extra black Grails records out there?), Doomsdayer's Holiday arrived on my doorstep this week. Although having had the album in mp3 for the best part of a month previous, often receiving the physical product of a record (either CD or vinyl, really) is the catalyst for really appreciating an album.

Clocking in at just over 37 minutes, Doomsdayer's Holiday marks a separation from the sprawling wonder of Burning Off Impurities, and a more focused album. Here are seven songs you could sit down and listen to, in a reasonable amount of time. The sound is more direct, if a little murkier, as though the band's "avant-metal leanings" have been compressed into more cogent bursts. But around the edges of the tracks there is still the spaciousness of their post-rock side, their experimentation.

The opening title track serves as a hazy, groovy introduction to the album, a dissolute wash of cymbals and electronics coalescing around a mean bass riff and wandering into psychedelic bluesy guitar. It's attempting to be several things at once, and succeeding; "smoky psychedelics and mountain-ascending riffs" with heavily-layered post-rock structures, and a deft touch in assembling melodies.

The album's twin 'blues' songs, one on either side, 'Reincarnation Blues' and 'Predestination Blues', are what the record coheres around. Combining the surf-like riffage from Take Refuge In Clean Living with the crashing, dense heaviness of Burning Off Impurities, they are soaked in the Easternness of those preceding records. 'Predestination Blues' in particular is as close as Doomsdayer's Holiday gets to a repeat of the stunning 'Take Refuge' from less than half a year ago, while 'Reincarnation Blues' feeds back into the tension between looseness and immediacy that characterised Burning Off Impurities.

While Grails seem to work with an ever-expanding palette of influences, the "70s European film noir and cosmic free jazz explorations" might stretch credulity somewhat. The more ambient tracks 'Immediate Mate' (mixed separately by Emil Amos) and 'X-Contamination' are ambiguous melanges of disparate elements from the rest of the album, that don't seem to me to add hugely to the whole. However, my two solid favourites from the album at the moment are the cinematic pairing of the slow-burning, understated 'The Natural Man', on the first side, and the long closing track on the second, 'Acid Rain'.

Like the quieter tracks from Burnng Off Impurities such as 'Drawn Curtains' and 'Outer Banks', or the toned down 'Clean Living' from Take Refuge, they channel a certain post-rock beauty and expressiveness all of their own when compared with their louder counterparts. 'The Natural Man' wanders through pastoral, verdant chords and spiralling melodies, while 'Acid Rain' crafts a lush, pacific world of surf melodies and jazzy rhythms, disintegrating into pulsing electronics and re-emerging cyclically into tender clarity.

I'd hesitate to place Doomsdayer's Holiday above Burning Off Impurities - TRL get it right when they describe the latter as "the kind of sprawling masterpiece that you savor for years before passing it on to your younger brother so he can repeat the process" (unfortunately I'm an only child) - but it has just as much, if not more, going for it. They might equally have got it wrong when they said Burning Off Impurities was "very likely the closest Grails will ever get to making a classic rock record", because here they are, a year or so later, with a solid (and single) LP of, if not quite rock music, then something a few steps higher up the ladder. Doomsdayer's Holiday is a great post-rock record, full of depth and soul, hard work and mindfulness.


Matt Houston said...

Thank you very much for placing my blog in your recommended albums section. I very much appreciate it. And, as usual, another great post here. I haven't heard Grails, but if they keep company with Earth and Sunn o))) I'm sure they're good.

Soft Lad said...

I too was glad to recieve a copy of the original release in my hands, after many listens of the digital version. The artwork is gorgeous. Really liked your review, thanks. Grails are definitely of the most interesting bands around for sometime.

- Davy