Tuesday 21 February 2023

Grandma's Ashes - This Too Shall Pass (2023)

Country: France
Style: Stoner/Progressive Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 17 Feb 2023
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram

Here's something interesting from France that taught me a new acronym. The genre here is up for grabs but I've seen FFOBR applied to it and I had no idea what that meant. It appears that Female Fronted Occult Blues Rock is a thing now and has been since at least 2015, when Doomed & Stoned journalist "Papa" Paul Rote put together a triple compilation of doom-stoner bands led by female voices, The Enchanter's Ball. I guess Coven have finally become leaders as well as pioneers, with a crop of bands in Rote's summation of the genre ones who have blown me away more recently, like Jess and the Ancient Ones, Wucan and Avatarium.

I'm not going to add Grandma's Ashes to that hallowed list quite yet, but I enjoyed this greatly and I can see it growing on me even more. They're folkier than any of the other bands I just mentioned but they range a long way, from the intro, À mon Seul Désir, which is mediaeval vocal harmonies, to something close to doom metal. Mostly, they sit in a middle ground that's sometimes psychedelic rock and sometimes prog rock but more often stoner rock. The shifts from calm folky harmonies to a raw stoner punk sound in a song like Aside, or, in the other direction, from heavy doom chords to a calm and even sassy pop sound on Caffeine are fascinating.

Frankly, everything here is fascinating. This is a debut album, though they released an EP a couple of years ago, and it's a startlingly mature mixture of different approaches. The vocals are mostly somewhere between folk and alternative pop/rock, whether they're aiming for traditional, jaunty or introspective. The guitars are the heaviest angle, with riffs right out of stoner rock and heavier bands. Borderlands ends by slowing down until it's almost recognisably Black Sabbath. The drums and, to a lesser degree, the bass represent prog or math rock, sometimes all the way into jazz, like on the saxophone assisted Interlude - Melt.

Reading interviews with the band, mostly for that EP, The Fates, highlights their influences, which are not remotely surprising. Guitarist Myriam El Moumni grew up in Morocco and so was exposed to copious amounts of African music but also grew up on classic rock before stumbling upon desert rock in Paris. Bassist Eva Hagen came up from British punk through stoner rock into a wider range of genres, like metal and prog. Drummer Edith Seguier favours math rock and prog metal. Myriam and Edith both studied jazz. All three sing here, but Eva is the lead, so I'm assuming the folky bits of the band's sound come from the dreamier aspects of desert rock.

I can't say that everything here worked for me, but that's almost inevitable with a release that's as broad in its reach. After all, this ranges from almost glitch electronica in Cruel Nature and that jazz saxophone on Interlude - Melt all the way up to doom metal in Caffeine. That's a serious range for a band on their debut album, but somehow they're able to collect all of those sounds into a single defining sound. If you played me carefully selected sections of half a dozen songs here, I'd say that they were by half a dozen different bands, but if you played me the entire songs, I'd see them as a single coherent band. That's impressive.

The catch is that it makes it tough to call out anything for special mention. What are my favourite tracks here? My cop out answer would be that you should ask me again after another few listens. I would, however, be surprised if Borderlands and Cruel Nature weren't in the shortlist, maybe with the closer, Lost at Sea, ahead of them. This adds experimental sounds into the mix and Eva's vocal is particularly emotional. Even though she sings mostly in English, I found it hard to focus on lyrics because I was too caught up in the emotional weight of the vocals which, like everything else here, have a considerable range, from fluffy soft to heartrendingly personal.

I know I like this a lot but I don't know how much yet. I need to come back to it a few more times as I get ahead of myself and free up enough moments to let it soak back in. So it's an 8/10 for now but it's not outside possibility that I'll shift that upwards at a later date.

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