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Grails - Doomsdayer’s Holiday

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Artist: Grails

Album: Doomsdayer’s Holiday

Label: Temporary Residence

Review date: Oct. 8, 2008

Since their formation as an essentially studio-based project, Portland’s Grails have followed an unusual trajectory. After a couple of EPs, their albums on the Neurot Records label seemed to indicate a certain affinity with label leaders Neurosis, and seemed to promise an increasing heaviness tinged by their eastern and awkwardly Celtic leanings. Instead, the band’s release on Southern’s Latitudes series was followed by a move to post-rock headquarters Temporary Residence, and an apparent willingness to embrace inclinations more experimental and, ironically, backward-looking.

As noted in this site’s review of last year’s Burning Off Impurities, Grails took their explicit influences from the Interpretations EP – especially that of Flower Travellin’ Band – and made them implicit in that album’s cuts. From lost Japanese psychedelic drone to Turkish ‘60s rock to more contemporaneous kosmische jammers, Grails subsumed inspirations and, for the most part, spun them into songs that were more than the sum of their historical references.

A year later now, the current quartet turned to engineers Steven Wray Lobdell (who knows more than a thing or two about cosmic sounds) and Randall Dunn (whose Earth/Sunn O))) experience could have gone either way here), and the 38 minutes here manage the neat trick of encompassing the band’s widest range of styles in a package that works. The album also shows a band that is becoming wise in the ways they edit themselves, with only one song breaking the seven-minute mark and most falling well short of that.

Doomsdayer’s Holiday begins with its somewhat misleading title track: three minutes of well-played but predictable bombastic, metallic riffing that could have come from an album by Isis or Neurosis. It’s also pretty much unlike anything else on the album. "Reincarnation Blues" follows and takes things in a more interesting direction, leading through valleys of eastern instrumentation, peaks of heavy rock, and sitar-like guitar twang. The song is economical and well-focused, with a balance that not all of the album achieves, and serves as a bit of a microcosm of the whole. The band offer a prism for their music here, with the initial middle-eastern melody quickly subsumed under a crush of drums and heavy guitars, only to return before being swallowed again. This uneasy truce between experiments in sound and a desire to just “rock out” lies at the heart of Doomsdayer’s Holiday, and is what makes it worth repeated listens.

As "Reincarnation Blues" dies away, in comes the acoustic strum of "The Natural Man," and for the most part the "heavy" sounds are gone, not to return. The remainder of the album progresses through shimmering beauty ("The Natural Man" is a bit too shiny for its own good) into free-form jams filled with burbling synths, abstract noises and clattering drums, and ambient sections strewn with distant clanks and drones. Eyebrows may raise at the closing track, ironically titled "Acid Rain," which reworks Meddle-era Floyd into a reverb-soaked lullaby of strummed guitars and floating synths.

If "Reincarnation Blues" is one pillar on which the album stands, its partner, "Predestination Blues," is the other. Its acoustic, eastern-styled strings quickly bloom into hard rock with a Turkish prog-psych feel that reminds me of an album I have by Nekropsi, not a bad thing at all. After a few minutes the song breaks down into buzzing ambience that slowly builds back up into a strong, classic cosmic jam. A marvelous piece.

The key to the album’s ultimate success is the band’s awareness of time and movement. The seven songs total to a little less than 40 minutes, with most of them around the 4-5 minute mark. This economy allows the band to indulge in exercises that if stretched to longer lengths would, at best, slow the album, and at worst, bog it down never to recover. Instead, the drones and murmuring free jams are used as glue, as respites between more structured pieces, and it works. This isn’t to say that at times one won’t wish for things to move along a bit more – Grails do have their moments of indulgence here. But the momentum continues from beginning to end, and Doomsdayer’s Holiday makes for perhaps the band’s strongest statement yet.

By Mason Jones

Other Reviews of Grails

The Burden of Hope

Red Light

Burning Off Impurities

Take Refuge in Clean Living

Deep Politics

Read More

View all articles by Mason Jones

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