I've said it before and I'll say it a million times. American music took a real backseat to British and European music even during a lot of the 60s, but at least then we had enough great bands and artists to sustain us and make us a creditable nation for some prime music. Some of the best music even I will readily admit originated in America. There were a lot of bands and the scene everywhere around the world back in the tumultuous but sweeter period of 1966-1969 was full of real excitement and FUN. Then something bad happened in America. Call it Altamont, Kent State, People's Park, or the deaths of Jimi Hendrix Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, but the death of something beautiful resulted in the birth of something more hideous than having a knife shoved at you in a dark alleyway in a bad horror film- Death, murder, destruction, and dismemberment became the order of the day for subject matter in the American charts. Blame the beginning of this trend on the worst of them all- Fort Worth Texas's sick in the head hick bastards Bloodrock- a band who should have been cut through with that proverbial knife of good taste before they could have a hit with the sickest, goriest, most disgusting and graphic pile of shit ever "DOA" and blot the entire nation of America by bringing on Southern Heavy Metal and making for a depressing run of bad pop death songs and bad Prototype metal death songs from their shit to the ex Frederic loser David Geddes' one bloodbath hideous hit "Run Joey Run" to the Buoys ode to cannibalism "Timothy." The worst period ever for American music.
-Grail The Music Of Darkness And Demonology A Prelude-
The thing is that death and destruction can have a place in rock and roll and Grail were onto that. Grail, from England, are a band who not only couldn't gain a US deal although I doubt it was even tried for them, but despite production duties going to Rod Stewart no label in England had the guts to put them out. Their violent, heavy, dark, doomy, and menacing sounds brought to light The Crusades and other references to history and mysticism. They drew on 1960s influences and obsessions like music from India, The Middle East, and The Orient, and somehow combined a million different kinds of music into the most deliciously deadly brew ever invented. Grail's lyrics are usually pretty dark and very downcast, but they managed to do so in a way that is tasteful, haunting, and has something the Yanks never could grasp onto- Gothic Level Heavy. That's right. With a name like Grail and with both the German and superior French issue coming in very strikingly bleak covers Grail had a sound that brings to mind clashes of swords, knights gathered around campfires strumming lutes and singing drunkenly, skies full of fire and battle cries, and all manner of darkness. They had a demonic and raving lead singer named Chris Williams who sadly died back in 2008 and he really was almost the only singer on the record. Sometimes Williams sings in a soft world weary quavery voice that recalls American bands like Earth Opera at their best and sometimes he snarls, growls, and goes into maniacal raving fits of hysteria that no one else got away with at the time. In some ways Grail were a band who may have been doomed to obscurity from the start. They were so intelligent, so dark, so violent that they probably alienated the commercial audience whilst they were too melodic and adventurous to appeal to stupid metal/at-that-time-hard rock-heads. I certainly run into a brick wall with my love of their music. If I wind things back to when I first heard Grail in 2002 my first reaction was that I thought they were too horrific to listen to. So I was going to be alienated by Chris Williams and the manic guitar, drum, bass, and everything smashing ups of the first track "Power," but then I played the whole CD- it was just a CD reissue I had then- and I flipped. It all made sense. Over the years "Power" before metal even existed is the penultimate dark metal song and beats out anything any band recorded at the time (Horse, Andromeda, Human Beast, and their ilk) or after it. The rest of the album is very full of variety, but I have read nasty reviews that say Grail go soft after such a heavy beginning. Well, that's wrong so let's move onto this album as a whole- let's get down and let me put my pen to work trying to make you put down Grail on your list as your Holy Grail Album.
-Grail From Start To Finish The Holy Grail Album Of My Dreams-
"Power" written by Chris Williams starts this album off on a note like nothing else in the world. Of the five members of Grail 3 were multi-instrumentalists and a prominent feature in "Power" and every track on the album is a mournful, moaning, twisted Gothic cello. I could describe the cello's effect in this song as "Medieval Hard Heavy Rock." The words to the song are one frantic verse, bridge, and chorus growled, snarled, and screamed by Chris Williams in a fit of anger and vengeful wrath. He sounds truly frightening unless you get past the exterior in which case Grail become truly exciting. Gnarly slashing screeching guitar solos, insane vocals, pounding drums, groaning cellos, and finally over the top guitar pyrotechnics and instrumental mayhem go on for over 7 minutes before the song ends. This is the hardest, heaviest track on the album and also possibly the heaviest track ever recorded by any band from anywhere in the world.
Grail go into an abrupt change on "Bleek Wind High" which is a stark flute and acoustic guitar medieval ballad with haunting vocals, beautiful imagery in the lyrics ("Out In The Shade/Deep In A Greenwood Glade A Young Man Lay In Coloured Clothes Waiting For His Maid/His Summer Was Coming In"), and Chris Williams has changed his yowling to a whisper almost. He sings in a gentle, sad, relaxed voice and even with the happy lyrics Grail sound somewhat mournful. Perhaps its that their dream back in the 60s is gone now. That's just pure speculation on my part. This is a beautiful, kind, sweet song that is dreamy and evocative. It brings to mind the sun coming through dark clouds and realizing how much beauty there is among the ugliness of the world. Go hug a soldier or other adorable boy. Go buy some flowers and draw them. Yeah, let the sweetness in just don't coat it in too much sugary stuff which these guys do not do thankfully (no Sagittarius here thank Christ)
Then another change! "Day After Day" (misspelled "Day After Way" on the back cover and of no relation to the Badfinger song) leaps head first into baroque psychedelia with a catchy classical piano motif, loudly strummed guitars, sharp tempo shifts, and great vocals from Williams. He lets his voice float above the music and sometimes hides in the background to let the band come out with brilliant performances all round. There's some nice 60s influences here and a good bit of classical and Medieval Folk coming into play with even some 60s full on psych vibes.
The 6os psych really comes to you like a flash from those beautiful lost days in the Majestic title track. Sitar led and full of a really heavenly yet very dark haunting vibe this one can creep under your skin and then sooth the beast that "Power" gives your heart at the same time. I can hear a lot of 60s influences here from The Beatles to Fairport Convention yet the prominent use of sitars, slow and magical music, and subtly psychedelic vocals makes the word "Folk Psych" probably not a proper description. I could say that, but "Grail" is much for psych than folk. Lyrically, this song deals with how the search for something grander, something more powerful and life-affirming never ends. The lyrics say the search is never ending and that probably is true. Grail recorded this album in 1970 right at the cusp of underground acts taking over from the 1960s heavyweights, but the record was not released until a year later bringing about a loss of momentum that may explain their short career.
Side Two is more "Power" and less of the melodic introverted side of Grail's music. "Camel Dung" was penned by the full group and deals with The Crusades. You may find this track really, really menacing, but you'll keep coming back to it because it really is something new and different. Williams goes between his Peter Rowan of Earth Opera poetical musings and growling snarling menace and it works amazingly well. The chorus is what British underground music is all about. If you think for two seconds we ever had this kind of excitement in the States I say one word- Kak. Kak were the one American band who could have pulled off some of the mystic psych magic heard on Grail's one album and it is one of the tragedies of American music history that we lost them so fast. You may also want to check out Earth Opera's self titled first album with the "White Cake Cover" for a lesser variation on this kind of magic, but that is not to say that Earth Opera are inferior- not at all. "Camel Dung" won me over way back when I first heard the album. It was the track that got me to make this my Holy Grail album as I've still heard nothing this much like a movie of the best most surreal kind or a true work of wonderful art than this and the rest of Grail's brilliant one-off. My only complaint on "Camel Dung" is a bit of sloppiness to the cello parts, but of course I can live with that.
"Sunday Morning" is a very dark track. Clearly Side Two is going to be the full exorcism of demons and this is not music for the meek or timid or mild. The whole song is really distant sounding, very plaintive. There is something very wrong going on in the world yet neither they nor you can see it. Freaky. "Somebody Has Died But Really Goes On Living/Singing Words Of Make Believe On A Sunday Morning," This is like if you woke up one day and you had an epiphany that you alone would have the whole earth and all its beauty because nobody else could see it or find it and all gave up on life. It isn't really the end it's the start of something that may in fact be very rewarding.
"Czchers" and "The Square" are a return to "Power." The two tracks are joined together cleverly by instrumental passages and a lyrical theme on both songs that is about when the Russians went into Prague (the Czechs Say "Praha") and killed students in a brutally fascistic display of fake power and destruction of human rights. Violent, menacing, scarily like something out of a Gothic Graveyard vigil this continuous track is the peak of British underground heavy psych. The Russian melodies played fiercely on guitars, ominous vocals, and crashing percussion work really exorcise the frightening element that you may feel and turn it into something exciting, something even invigorating: "WHY CAN'T YOU SEE WE WANNA BE FREE! WHY CAN'T YOU SEE WE GOTTA BE FREE!" Williams wails in the middle. A very sad loss and it took me aback to hear of his passing on the evil youtube. Chris Williams went on to make four albums with the German band Abacus which were just like Gary Yoder's work with Blue Cheer after Kak a real let down with just a few flashes of the earlier brilliance he had shown. On "Czechers" And "The Square" Grail are in hard rocking top form with plenty of room for dark Gothic slow passages and fast paced charging guitars, bass, and drums. When the first part ends and goes into "The Square" I would come right out and say these guys should have been even more successful and are even more impressive than Sabbath, but Ozzy sounds like a saint compared to Chris Williams on this track! A stunning close to one of the best albums ever made!
Grail and Black Sabbath, all the great challengingly progressive British and European bands they took over. America had gotten into a quagmire and it was becoming really hard for a good band to even earn a living. There were exceptions like the awesome Smoke Rise, but Smoke Rise weren't the only band promised everything in the world with it all to fall through. Smoke Rise recorded their concept double LP THE SURVIVAL OF SAINT JOAN for a movie that never happened and despite the huge hopes when the movie wasn't gonna happen I leave you to figure out the rest. What had gone wrong? Hadn't we once been producing really good music not so long ago? The 1960s were fading, but in truthfulness they were being pissed on. Bloodrock who should have been literally given the axe or better hung drawn and quartered weren't the only ones to piss all over the dream of democracy, peace, equal rights, love, and hope for a better more balanced nation. Soon Southern Rock which was a banner for the Ku Klux Klan emerged from all over the South to huge acclaim while the brilliant Houston Anglophile psych/hard rock/progressive band Blackwell or the amazing Bloomsbury People from Wisconsin or late on Local Heroes National Nobodies Circus from Ohio gained no ground at all and had to deal with a completely apathetic buying public. It's sad and it's sorry when the best song you can hear on the radio from those days is "Precious And Few" by Climax. In the 1990s hatred of the 1960s was at a peak and I was fighting it throwing myself right into conflicts and defying everything that the worst factions of this country stand for. I didn't even know who Grail were then, but I think I would have dug them. My story is coming to an end. Let me tell you how things close out.
-Holding The Sacred Grail In My Arms And Reborn From The Dead-
Last night I suffered a total system failure and collapse which lasted an hour and could have been the end of my life. Today against all the odds I faced last night I love Grail and music and my life and will never take for granted the fact that I am alive for a reason. I will fight the white trash rednecks who bring us down and bring us shame to the end. I will get to a better life and more control over my life. I will continue to fight on the right side and never cross over to the dark side. I'm going to tell you straight out that I fight for my music, I fight for my beliefs, I fight for all that matters to me with the kind of dogged determination of a true warrior. And now I hold Grail- My Holy Grail- in my arms and treasure it. I'm gonna win and you fools who oppose me are going to rot in your self-composed graves!