This album from American blackgazers Chrome Waves has actually been kicking around the traps at Sentinel Daily for some while now, having been released by the band themselves at the start of the year but rejected by my fine-principled co-writer Graham Goodge for being ‘too commercial’. It was then passed to me but I couldn’t find the time to fully immerse myself in the album – and this is an album that requires full immersion, I’m telling you – so it appeared the time to talk about A Grief Observed has passed over the horizon, through no fault of it’s own….
Lucky, then, that visionary Italian label Avantgarde have seen to pick up the album for a mid-year re-release, affording me a couple of extra – and very vital – months to live with the album before committing fingers to keyboard in an attempt to sum up the bleak majesty contained within it’s grooves.
Essentially a two-piece formed by Jeff Wilson (Abigail Williams, Nachtmystium, Wolvhammer, et al) and James Benson (Amiensus, Fail to Decay, Nott) – these two are augmented by various and different lineups for studio and live work – Chrome Waves live on the outskirts of extreme metal; Tracks like Past The Lights and Burdened would appear far too sophisticated in their construction to be left to the (un)tender mercies of bullet-belted or corpse painted gumbies. But at the same time the anguished vocals and tremolo guitar abuse scream ‘how can we be anything but metal’? to anyone who’ll listen. Whilst in the past this may have caused problems in attracting a listenership worried whether it was committing it’s ears to fish or fowl, in today’s enlightened, music-without-borders environment this sort of unconscious eclecticism is a comparative boon. Unfettered by concerns of pleasing a furrowed-browed following, Chrome Waves tell it like it is – or at least as it is in their febrile but very creative mindspaces – with the resultant din being an absolute riot of enjoyment for anyone with a few hours ready to absorb it all.
Opening track Burdened, for instance, weds such unlikely bedfellows as Grant Hart and My Dying Bride in matrimonial bliss – I’m not joking, and what’s more the marriage works – whilst the title track, again featuring some achingly emotional cello work from Kakophonix, takes the listener on a stupendously epic journey through the hinterland of the confluence of classic doom/death and late eighties British shoegaze with tear-jerking success.
Shortest track Predatory Animals is probably the most straightforward metal track here – Bob Fouts hammers away on the kit, providing a solid base for some neat (and very metal) guitar work that’ll get ‘em headbanging contentedly in the live arena but which doesn’t quite command such devotion as the rest of the material here. It’s still rousingly attractive – just not quite so mentally challenging.
Penultimate track Take Another Sip reverts to type, being altogether less rampant, and more concerned with blurring the edges of Wilson and Benson’s collective creative urges until the coalescence of the two settles into a kick-drum driven reverie of chiming chords and semi-murmured vocals and tortured screams. And the welcome return of that cello again mid-track, adding more layers of hair-raising texture and feeling; the mix of screams (pushed back in the mix to somehow emphasise the enormity of the protagonist’s agony), strings and snare on the second half of this track is one of the absolute highlights of A Grief Observed.
The album closes via the quasi-orchestral Open Casket; multitracked cellos evoke a team of musicians tuning in readiness, before being joined by gratifyingly heavy guitar and drums and the emergence of spacey synth splurges that might have the less balanced listener thinking he’s listening to some sort of proto-black metal recorded by Rush in the late seventies. Until the vocals come in. After that, it’s on for young and old as the band pile on the pressure, loading more and more cacophony into the mix as the song builds fit to explode. Torche and Hawkwind fans alike will lap this up, but in the final analysis you could say that for devotees of any heavy alternative music at all. There is literally something here for everyone, as long as you keep the mind and ears open and free from prejudice. Brain manglingly-good from top to bottom and front to back.
The Avantgarde Music reissue of A Grief Observed is out now.