It’s hard not to feel reflective at a show comprising three artists who revel in moody, experimentalist atmospheres and communicative musings. Indeed, in true post-rock style, such a bill promises a revelatory experience, and one that drifts by in a fraction of its true runtime, as the acts’ celestial compositions adopt an unearthly atmosphere that’s hard to snap out of in between sets. As Marc Masters of Pitchfork once pointed out, post-rock works as a verb as well as a noun, and tonight definitely post-rocks, but it also post-metals and, um, experimentalist folks? Perhaps that line of thinking doesn’t apply to every genre…
Playing to a growing audience that is, admittedly, more than a little thin at first, Ilyas Ahmed (himself now a full-time member of headliner Grails) manages to impress in a tough circumstance. His humble presence goes hand-in-hand with the minimalist guitar that rings out throughout The Haunt, with the silver of his guitar reflecting a beam of light upwards as if mimicking the strangely uplifting nature of the music itself. Indeed, his 30-minute set flies by as Ahmed explores a variety of textures through a minimalist lens, with lucid compositions that stretch the definition of the notion of a “song”. Always captivating and often deeply atmospheric, Ahmed’s exploratory music is a fantastic opener to a night of artists all on the experimental end of the musical spectrum.
The room now steadily filling, both with punters and the smell of a stick of incense propped up atop a speaker onstage, Bossk’s compelling post-metal maintains the reflective nature of the opening act, but also injects some lively energy into the night. Even their prolonged quieter moments act with the heavier sections in mind, ramping up a palpable tension that’s unleashed into cathartic crescendos of metallic noise. Soft underwater blue lights twinkle across the stage, often making the members appear as silhouettes, an effective companion in particular to Sam Marsh’s blackened vocals, which are often sparse but always potent, and seem especially poignant considering the instrumental nature of tonight’s headliners.
Merging the crowd into a singular entity that either nods its head as one or remains silent in a unanimous appreciative silence, Grails prove the most experimental artists on a bill comprised solely of them. The cathartic intensity of Bossk now gone, Grails wallow in their own deeply expressive stylings, imposing a more spiritualistic aura despite a no-frills stage presence that allows their varied compositions to soar on their own merit.
The band take the crowd through a range of moods, from reflective lows that make you question your life choices to uplifting highs that reach upwards, taking your woes with them. Their jazzy, free-form compositions give the impression of improvisation, but are played with such precision that each note hits its intended heartstring.
Even though the venue is slightly less than packed, you have to wonder why these masterful, vast, and often breath-taking displays of inventive musicianship are not gracing greater stages. Perhaps any crossover potential is simply buried under the staggering weight of their varied influences, condemning the band to remain the underground gem they are. Nevertheless, the expansive and thoroughly rewarding experience is one to treasure, regardless the setting.
Grails’ latest LP, Chalice Hymnal, is out now on Temporary Residence. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr