In early 2005, Grails returned to the United States after a short tour through Europe. After getting off the plane, the violinist of the group veered off from the rest of the group and was literally never heard from again. Although rumors popped up from time to time about his whereabouts, the remaining members of the band were momentarily at a loss, wondering what had happened to their bandmate of five years and three albums. After taking some time off, the group came together and started a series of new recordings, tossing most of their previous style out the window in favor of a darker, more experimental sound.
The result, for me anyway, is easily their best album since their debut and possibly their best ever. After their somewhat stale second album Redlight, this sort of sonic stew is not only completely unexpected, but pretty much just what they needed to shake free from the glut of bands doing similar styles. On Black Tar Prophecies Vol's 1, 2, & 3, the group touches on everything from smoldering psychedelia to thunderous rock that closes in on doom metal.
"Back To The Monastery" opens the disc and after some droning horns and chimes, tribal drums sweep up alongside some dark folky acoustic guitar before the second half of the track breaks out into a late 60s-inspired rockout that chases away some of the dark clouds. "Bad Bhang Recipe" drops things squarely back into a dank alley as the group shuffles along with a sort of slithering subterranean jazz track that oozes with atmosphere. They're just a setup for "Belgian Wake-Up Drill," though as the group opens with some shimmering samples before some massively sludged-out guitar riffs and pummeling polyrhythms plow the track forward into a place that one could never have imagined the group traversing a couple years ago.
The rest of the album is just as varied, with some more acoustic-based pieces that mellow things out a bit and even more places where the now quartet stretch out with new freedom and really seem to simply rejoice at having no expectations placed on their sound (as on the dub-inflected "Black Tar Frequencies"). Despite the mystery surrounding the disappearance of their band-mate, the release doesn't simply wallow in the dark for the entirety. There are still plenty of rises and falls, but this time out the excitement is not knowing at all when they're going to happen and even how the group is going to get there. Black Tar Prophecies Vol's 1, 2, & 3 is a great release from a group who jumped the rails and in doing so came up with something heady and just the right touch of heavy.