Holy Grove – ‘Holy Grove’
I despise the term 'stoner rock' and would love to have it stricken from the public lexicon. Instead of correctly identifying modern acts as the rightful contenders to the fuzzed out hard rock throne of generations past, the term unfortunately conjures images of a confused but enthusiastic Tommy Chong playing shitty Deep Purple covers to the bored staff of an empty coffeehouse. I wouldn't call acts like Blue Oyster Cult, Grand Funk Railroad, and Cream something as fucking insipid and trivial as 'stoner rock,' so I won't curse their progeny with the same. To me, there's no need to reinvent the wheel to describe it. Recently, I had the chance to check out a new spoke on that wheel from Portland, Oregon's Holy Grove.
The band—Andrea Vidal (vocals), Trent Jacobs (guitar), Gregg Emley (Bass) and Adam Jelsing (Drums)—has only been together since 2012, but Emley was a member of Greenhouse Effect in San Jose during the first wave of that city's post-Sleep, Man's Ruin Records era. When he relocated to Portland some years later, he brought that experience with him, and went online to find other like minded folks to start a new band with. While in the process of auditioning for a vocalist, still not even sure if they wanted a male or female singer, the previously unknown local Vidal showed up with her formidable pipes, and, convinced they had found their voice, the band settled in to write.
After a handful of demos, Holy Grove released their self-titled debut last month on Italian imprint Heavy Psych Sounds. Recorded by Billy Anderson, the album opens with “Death of Magic,” and right away the riffs and sound hit my aural sweet spot. It's a memorable tune and the hooks sink in nice and deep. The slow-to-medium tempo and dirty tone puts lots of meat on the skeletal song framework, and Vidal soars as the song jumps into the chorus. Her voice and cadence are reminiscent of smoky old blues singers. You need soul to sing this music and make it sound real, and she's got it in spades.
“Nix” is next, starting with a more subdued feel, but blossoming into a dark doominess that really emphasizes the low end from Emley. I'm a sucker for good bass, the kind that toys with you between a slippery velvet feel and hammering brutality, and Emley and his Rickenbacker provide it all.
The title track feels like a statement, opening with guitar and bass and swelling into a roar later emphasized by Jacobs' sweeping solo. The track seems to encompass the stronger points of the first two songs, gelling them together before “Huntress” charges out of the gate. The song begins doomy but swaggers through different paces, and expresses a level anger that hadn't yet shown itself on the record.
“Caravan” brings the boogie to the forefront while retaining the doomed feel of the previous tracks. Here the band makes blending different styles look easy. They can bring the plodding doom, the psyched out interludes, the rock n roll boogie, and desert rock stylings while still sounding like their own entity, and it's pretty refreshing in a genre that is packed to the rafters with simple clones. “Hanged Man,” with it's sprawling moods, is probably the best example of this, while closer "Safe Return" ends the proceedings on a more straightforward note.
Overall I came away from this listen highly impressed. From the gorgeous cover art to the production to each individual performance, Holy Grove managed to put together a solid collection of tunes that accurately reflect their own vision while remaining true to their roots. If you aren't a fan of 4/4 grooves and no-frills rock n roll, I can see why this wouldn't appeal to you. There's not a lot of innovation, experimentation or technical wankery here, but I don't think the band cares about that, and to be honest neither do I as long as the songs are good. With all the copy cats out there hoping to be the next Matt Pike or Josh Homme, it's nice to know that some bands are all about the songs and not a particular image. Holy Grove writes songs, not just riffs, which is a quality that shouldn't have to be emphasized on a music site but probably should be. It's not all just about bashing out Dopesmoker at max decibels or outdoing Iommi with grooves and licks, folks. It's about taking those original concepts and ideas and making them feel new and exciting again, while offering a fresh escape route from day to day life. To me that's rock, and Holy Grove does exactly that.
Holy Grove is playing at Psycho Las Vegas this August and will embark on their first tour of Europe shortly after.
Holy Grove is out now on Heavy Psych Sounds. Follow Holy Grove on Facebook.