Jolly Roger Records
Words: Craig Hartranft
I've never heard of Graal, a hard and heavy band from Italy, and their history is a bit sketchy from the information supplied by label Jolly Rogers Records. It appears they formed better than ten years ago, have had some success in the Italian heavy metal underground, and cut a few albums. The latest is the aptly titled Chapter IV.
My first impressions were a bit skewed, even thrown off, as the band starts off the album with Little Song, an acoustic song with slight folk nuances. But then follows with Pick Up All The Faults a hard rock number with a heavy metal feel. But then you notice something else. Graal has warped into the past. Their sound is this retro-fitted classic hard rock that sounds somewhere between 1978 and 1983, complete with touch of keyboards sounding like a Hammond. It's what some might characterize as proto-metal, but it's being played in the 21st century. I'm also sure there's more than a few people who will read this and only see "retro' and think old. But they would be wrong.
In the wrong hands, Chapter IV would probably sound old to some. But Graal has a keen sense of the roots of classic hard rock and metal. Whether it's the fundamental groove of the rhythm section, the swirl of keyboards, an abundance of clean but stinging guitar, or smooth melodies and vocal harmonies, the band works the elements like craftsman. This music may not captivate the idiot youngster trying to keep his pants up. But those who have a sense of history will get this music.
Heavier numbers come also with Lesser Man and Shadow Play, both of which move on the strength of guitar riffs. Sometimes songs start with the keyboards, and nearly throw you off. With Guardian Devil it's brief and leads to song driven by bass and drum in less heavy more subdued atmosphere. At the start of Last Hold you might think you bumped back another decade to the psychedelic Sixties. But this leads into another hard rock number. Yet the keyboards stay present turning later to piano about the midpoint, then back to synths. Some of Graal's best music is left for the end with A Poetry For A Silent Man and Northern Cliff, both instrumentals. The first is pure piano, simple, nearly melancholy. The latter finds a nice fusion of acoustic and electric guitar with underlying keys, notable piano, all held together by steady and presence rhythm. I think I liked these two songs more than any of the others. Fundamentally, for listeners unfamiliar with their style, Graal and Chapter IV will take some time understanding before they enjoy it. Jump right in, I say. Graal is quite adept and creative at their retro and proto melodic hard rock and metal.
Graal and their fourth album Chapter IV are a throw back of sorts: playing honest and creative retro and proto melodic hard rock and heavy metal for the 21st century.
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