Wednesday 11 March 2020

The Grief - Ascent (2020)

Country: Ireland
Style: Gothic Doom Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 28 Feb 2020
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Given that this is a ache-infused combo of the legendary Peaceville three of Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Anathema, I was always going to like this, but it took me a couple of listens through to really get on the right side of it. It tones down the death side of those doom/death bands in favour of a stronger doom side with gothic flavouring. The death aspect is most obvious in some of the backing vocals, especially on In Defiance, as singer Stephen Quinn stays clean throughout.

There are only four tracks here because this is an EP, but a second EP will follow in the summer. Also, those four tracks amount to twenty-five minutes of music so the EP is almost as long as Reign in Blood. The band were a four piece in the studio, with guitarist John Murphy doubling up on drums, but a permanent drummer has been hired so they'll be a quintet ongoing.

This isn't the most immediate material, but it's good stuff. The tone is in evidence from moment one but, for all that there's melody everywhere, these aren't catchy songs. We can flow with them and soar and swoop along with the voice of Quinn and the guitars of Murphy and Quinn's brother Paul, but this wasn't ever intended to be earworm material and all that melody is there to aid the construction of the songs rather than to hurl hooks at us.

A New Dawn knows precisely how to kick things off and, now that I've become friends with these songs, I can appreciate how quintessential the first two minutes of this song are. That's a jagged guitar tone from the outset but a nice interplay between the two guitarists and a good melody. The drums join in simply but very effectively twenty seconds in and immediately set a slow and aching pace. The vocals are right behind the drums and they're dripping with melancholy. By the time we hit a minute and a half, Quinn hurls out a pleading "Remember me", it's time for a quick breakdown with distant bells and we're off and running.

In Defiance is slower but less dense musically, to give Quinn's voice more focus. It highlights that, of those three pioneering bands, it's surely My Dying Bride who were the most influential on these Irish lads. Its minimal sections are delightful but it ramps back up just as well four minutes into the song.

Call of the Void kicks off with Kieran O'Leary's rich bass, before the rest of the band crash in to join the wake. I'd say party, but this isn't at all happy and there's a sense of loss that underpins everything. Then again, the Irish really know how to hold a wake and this isn't that cheerful either. It grows well and I particularly like the churning section a minute or two from the end.

That leaves Departed, at five minutes the shortest song on the album and the least convincing to my mind. With such a My Dying Bride influence, it should hardly come as a surprise that the Grief want to dabble in prog or alt rock at some point and they certainly do here. Even as it heavies up, I heard as much Steve Hogarth-era Marillion here as I did any of those doom/death bands and that's no bad thing. It shows that the Grief are painting with a broader palette than just Peaceville circa 1993 and that bodes well for that second EP I'll be waiting eagerly for. It's just that this song didn't resonate as much as the early ones for me.

This is the Grief's first release, but there's a history behind them that's longer than the name. The band seem to have grown out of Corr Mhóna, a doom band who sang in Gaelic and featured both the Quinn brothers and the band's original drummer, Robert Farrow. In fact, I shouldn't use the past tense as they're still a going concern, even though their album was released back in 2014. Both guitarists also play in a Katatonia tribute band named Katatonik.

As I've mentioned before, I grew up with those early Peaceville bands and I applaud anyone taking them as a starting point for their own musical journey into the future. I'd like to see where it takes the Grief.

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