I’m not sure why, but I’d always written Grails off as a stoner metal band, i.e., the kind given to sludgy riffs that just never seem to end. But when I heard the opening strains of Chalice Hymnal’s title track, I immediately realized how wrong I’d been. Sure, there’s the occasional bit of heavy riffage but for the most part, Chalice Hymnal is typified by graceful, even sublime atmospheric work that straddles post-rock, electronic music, film scores, modern classical, and even jazz.
It’d be easy to slap a word like “cinematic” onto what Grails has accomplished here, but it feels quite apropos. These eleven songs certainly feel like they could accompany a movie’s visuals, and no doubt, you’ll have movies running through your mind while listening to them. More importantly, though, I’ve always thought using “cinematic” to describe music implies it possesses a vast, epic scope — and Chalice Hymnal’s sense of scope is nothing if not ambitious.
That’s because Chalice Hymnal is graced with a stunning sonic diversity. Shimmering vibes reverberate from one end to the other of the aptly titled “Empty Chamber” while John Barry-like strings conjure all sorts of noir-ish intrigue throughout “Deeper Politics.” “Tough Guy”’s swaggering beats and grimy textures have you expecting Robert Del Naja and Grant Marshall to start rapping at any moment. Finally, “Rebecca” is the album’s prettiest, most affecting song thanks to diaphanous guitar strums, distant chimes, dreamy keys, and a darker undercurrent that keeps the song from simply floating away.
As you might guess, there’s tremendous variety from one song to the next, but Chalice Hymnal never feels unfocused, or at best, like a mix tape featuring eleven different groups. No matter what genres Grails happens to be splicing together to create a particular song, their incredible skill and attention to both detail and atmosphere ensures no jarring moments or transitions. Indeed, listeners will likely remain entranced until the album’s very last note fades.