Chalice Hymnal | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 02, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 02, 2017

ALBUM REVIEW

Chalice Hymnal

Grails at their most diverse

It is a sunless afternoon and a woman sits alone on her porch under the wind chimes. Bells and horns sound from the top of a great stone temple welcoming the evening tide. An unshaven man prowls the nameless alleys in the dead hours of the night, searching for you.

Synesthesia is what they call it when something stimulates more senses of the body than it normally should. Synesthetics can hear the flavour of their food and smell an image on a screen. It's probably not much fun to actually have the condition, but listening to Grails really makes me curious.

At their finest the band always comes across as writing music for pivotal moments in cinema. These films do not – and probably never can – exist. As I listen to “Silk Rd”, “Origin-ing”, “Smokey Room” and indeed the entirety of Deep Politics I really wish I could see for myself the scenes the band seems to be setting. Chalice Hymnal is their latest full-length release, the first since 2011, and I must say that this one hell of a movie they're encouraging me to imagine.

The typical Grails track is a sort of moody, melancholic piece that heavily incorporates the sort of Middle Eastern and Indian influences lesser Western bands would use in an embarrassing attempt to “expand the listener's consciousness”. Even at their least artless Grails have never quite succumbed to the depths of tacky oriental fetishism; I've never heard a Grails track where it seemed the presence of an element weakened the composition. Theirs is the music of emptiness and destruction: the loneliness of a crowded room or the vaults of a great temple buckling down and disappearing into the sand. I would put it that they tell different stories about essentially the same feeling, and by adding more and more colours to their palette Grails are simply finding new ways of approaching the theme without muddying it.

This is a palette formed from post-rock roots and tinged heavily with the sounds of the nebulous “East”, yes. Years of constant crafting have added a more classical western flavour, with introspective piano work and urgent strings. All this could have been heard on Deep Politics six years ago, yes. However the various band members have since then worked on a variety of side projects: Lilacs & Champagne produces electronic music using samples collected from old TV and Danish pornography, Holy Sons has a claustrophobic bluegrass sound, and the drummer is now in the prestigious Om. All these ingredients are present in Chalice Hymnal, a broth that's been stewing all these years.

I cannot yet say how good the album is. My favourite thing about Grails is how much stuff just happens in a single track. Every time you listen with attention you discover a new sound. Their music is played organically, with variations in each note and constantly shifting accents in the background. What is rewarding in the long term isn't even immediately apparent. I can say that is a solid album and contains possibly the fullest expression of what Grails is - truly a sum of its parts. 

Listen to it if you are alone and want to see strange, sad new worlds crumbling. It's one of the most interesting experiences offered in music. 

Zoheb Mashiur is a prematurely balding man with bad facial hair and so does his best to avoid people. Ruin his efforts by writing to zoheb.mashiur@gmail.com

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