Review & Track Premiere: Grin, Translucent Blades

grin translucent blues

[Click play above to stream ‘Helix’ from Grin’s second album, Translucent Blades. Album is out Jan. 17, 2020, on Crazysane Records with preorders available here.]

Both Jan Oberg and Sabine Oberg, who together comprise the Berlin-based duo Grin, also double in Earth Ship. Though the origins are murky, it would seem Grin formed as a side-project of that outfit sometime ahead of recording and releasing their debut full-length, Revenant, last year, with Jan overseeing the recording and mixing at his own Hidden Planet studio in Berlin in addition to drumming, noisemaking and singing. He and Sabine, who also plays bass, would seem to have a hand vocally in Translucent Blades, the early 2020 Crazysane Records follow-up to that debut, but the process from which the second album emerges would seem to be somewhat similar — done at home, so to speak, with just the two of them involved.

It is a relatively quick eight-track/36-minute LP, and yet, the level of stylistic exploration and the sheer aesthetic ground covered on Translucent Blades is somewhat staggering, and while there’s little doubt that the material benefits from the players’ prior familiarity with each other — I don’t think it’s a coincidence they have the same last name; i.e., they’re married — but in concert with that is a clear will shown on a per-song basis to tread onto some new ground, try some new thing, and incorporate it into a whole that takes shape as being their own. Though quick, it is also a heady project, to be sure, but these are heady times, and one tends to think the general listenership is schooled in and out of genre in such a way as to appreciate the progressive aspects of what Grin build toward in cuts like “Husk” as well as the impact of the payoffs in “Orbital Grace,” “Electric Eye,” “Holy Grief” and the finale “Reviver,” which is aptly named for the blackened aspects it reignites from opener “Helix,” giving a symmetrical closing to the record that only underscores the notion of a masterplan at work on the part of the two-piece. And masters they just might be.

To wit, there’s no ground they touch on Translucent Blades that they don’t conquer. “Helix” begins with a push of low end and spacious crash cymbal, a swirl backing that’s either guitar effects or some kind of synthesizer noise as the first black metal-style cavern screams start — an immediate defiance of expectation that Grin wear exceedingly well. The overarching stylistic affect is psychedelic, and all the more so when a clean-sung chorus takes hold with even more delay/echo in the midsection, Jan and Sabine seeming to come together on vocals before a drop to standalone bass leads to a semi-spoken section with far-back shouts behind, the final stage of the first of eight tracks, summarized there in some ways but still with plenty of ground to boldly cover. “Orbital Grace” brings in Jesu-style post-all, while the title-track rolls out more severe plod with more semi-spoken lines atop a wide open atmosphere and a finish that — I don’t know if Grin are able to play live or if there’s just too much going on with layering to make it happen — but deserves to come from a stage somehow some way.

grin (Photo by Ruby Gold)

They again toy with black metal on “Husk,” but in squibbly guitar, not vocals, and push it so deep in the mix as to have almost an ambient effect alongside the galloping drums, playing out behind an airier lead and lyrics that are so drenched as to become part of the wash, an instrument unto themselves, as is clearly the intent. The risk any such release runs is in putting its aesthetic ambitions ahead of the songs, but Grin seem to pivot around this trap by making each piece on Translucent Blades stand out in some way while feeding into the complete flow of the record in its entirety. “Husk” rounds out side A and side B begins with the meditative-heavy-Om-via-Zaum unfurling of “Electric Eye,” a rollout more about hypnosis than build, even when an additional layer of fuzz joins the proceedings late in their march.

One might think that by the time they get through the first half of Translucent Blades that the course would be set, but the Obergs continue to broaden the scope as they move forward, first with “Electric Eye” and then with the plunder-in-space of “Holy Grief,” which brings together a cosmic doom via Ufomammut spirit with a forward thrust of snare in its verses that seems pulled from High on Fire‘s rhythmic fervency. Perhaps most importantly, the song seems to dissolve into noise, cutting off at the end, but prior to that, letting itself get lost in the wash of its own making in an effective moment of inward and outward trance induction. That is, they seem just as affected by it. A quiet two-and-a-half-minute instrumental “Antares” serves as the penultimate inclusion, bringing in flute — or flute sounds — with an echo-soaked spoken sample or verse (it’s hard to tell) and stark guitar resolution that gives way to silence ahead of “Reviver,” the very title of which lets the listener know that Grin aren’t letting go without a fight, whatever shape that might ultimately take.

“This is how everything ends” is the first line of the song, and though Jan would seem to be describing an apocalyptic landscape — fair enough — the fact that “Reviver” is where it is would seem to clue one into its having been written as an intended finale. It grows in intensity across its five-plus minutes, making its way toward a last march that shuts down cold on snare hits but still brings out a sense of drift before it does. Grin are of course not the first act in the universe to blend sonic heft and atmospheric breadth, but the reach with which they do so is noteworthy, and the feeling of intent behind their finished product only makes its execution more appreciable. Their experiments work, and further, they’re not just experiments. There’s an expressive aspect to Translucent Blades that unites the material regardless of where an individual track is headed, and while Grin might demand multiple listens to let the record properly sink in, each airing provides more than enough satisfaction to earn the next.

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3 Responses to “Review & Track Premiere: Grin, Translucent Blades

  1. The Ugfromumant says:

    HO LEE SHIT! This is facemenltingly heavy. I think my ears are now scrambled eggs.

  2. DaGreenman says:

    Best shit I’ve heard since I inadvertently drive motorcycle through a carwash???

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