It’s been quite a while since I’ve been into a Melodic Hardcore album. The last time I jammed a Melodic Hardcore release this hard was with Comeback Kid’s “Broadcasting…” in 2007. Enter Grail, from Brooklyn, New York, with their debut EP “Still Alive”. I haven’t been hooked in by flailing melodic guitar leads like this in about a decade. Everything from the meaty chords chosen by guitarists Will Wiseheart and Mark Woodbridge (ex-Driver Side Impact) to the ambient notes ringing out overhead in the heavens above have me loving every second of this EP. We’ll dive a little deeper into the guitars in a minute.
Still Alive boasts a diverse set of songs that will either make you want to tear out your teeth and punch concrete, or sink into a cool pool of water and sink into the depths where the sunlight wanes. The band has an eagerness to their sound that shows how cohesive their writing ability is, and you can feel the ferocity of their passion for what they play. They retain a certain heaviness while circling the listener with fine-tuned melody, and they aren’t afraid to dial back when necessary.
The vocals on this…. Oh man, these are some killer vocals. While Stason Bobo keeps a somewhat monotone style to his voice for most of the EP, he has a very gritty voice that shreds into the music and peppers it with emotion and intensity. Both guitar players offer sparse backing vocals, and they certainly mesh well with Stason’s style. His vocal patterns really compliment the guitar-work and drumming, adding a unique complexity to the rhythms you feel. His lyrics are incredibly poetic, and his rhyme schemes are exceptionally distinct from other lyricists in the genre. The grittiness and power behind Bobo’s shouting crafts these already great lyrics into bombshells of emotion and exasperation with the world.
Andrew Riccatelli weaves his drumming into the music like a fine handcrafted Navajo blanket; full of color, passion, and patterned in just the right way that is pleasing to the eye (or in this case, the ear). His fills are timed extremely well and he knows just when to sit back a bit on the kit and let the rest of the music shine through a little brighter. He doesn’t go crazy on the kit, but the music doesn’t call for overly technical playing. His drumming drives each song forward in just such a way that I find myself constantly bobbing my head to match up with his tempo and rhythm.
Complimented by Gary Lee Blevins on bass guitar, there are some wonderful bass lines on this record. Gary is unfortunately no longer with the band, but he left his permanent mark on this EP, and I find that to be for the better. He’s what I would describe as a pocket bassist, playing simpler bass lines that truly compliment the drummer and the rest of the music as a whole. His playing lays a solid foundation for everything else to sit neatly atop, balancing out each song with the perfect level of low end that doesn’t become overbearing or draw focus away from other aspects that the listener is focused on.
Back to the guitars… The guitar work is absolutely incredible on this album, and it’s what really calls out to me and hooks me in. The gravelly guitar tone of the chunky rhythm strumming compliments the soaring ambient leads in just such a way you’ll be left with tunnel vision, paying more attention to the music pounding into your ears than your surroundings. I keep finding myself wanting to go back and listen to the songs again just in case there was a note I didn’t quite hear on my previous listen. There are a lot of interesting chord choices, and there are always a lot of notes melting together to form a story of their own. I personally love when guitar playing like this evokes such emotion in the listener. If it weren’t for the thickness of all the guitar parts blending together, I don’t think I would like this release as much as I do. There’s just the right amount of things going on with the guitar in these songs to really grasp onto and let yourself go along for the full ride.
The one song that sticks out the most to me on this record is the third track, titled “Suffer”. This song features Jerry Jones from the New Jersey band Trophy Scars, in a cool little guest vocal spot. He adds a completely new element to the song with a little bit of clean singing, and it works a lot better than expected. Suffer has some slower moments that are a nice break from the more frenetic pace of other songs. This track has some of the catchier guitar riffs on Still Alive, and it’s certainly my favorite track on the EP. My favorite lyric line comes from one of the most intense parts of this song, where Stason belts out “I will put up a fight to turn this life around” just before the song sinks into a slower pace and Jerry Jones softly sings a verse, emphasizing the power those words have and embellishing their transcendental meaning.
Still Alive is an incredible album. It released on March 21st, 2017, and I keep finding myself going back and listening to it again and again over the past 2 months. Grail is putting the “Melodic” back into Melodic Hardcore, and I’m glad I’m here to witness it. There is a bright, bright future ahead of this band if they make a push to get themselves heard, and we will certainly be following up on this band in the future and letting all of you know if there are any cool things planned for them (Tours/Radio Spots/Podcasts/New Music/Etc). If Melodic Hardcore is your thing, then this EP is a MUST have. It’s very very rare that I give out a rating this good, but…
Final Verdict: 9.5/10