Aye, it's Grim up north, in the forgotten and derelict bits of Third World desolation lying far from the center of the universe (aka London). And what better way to revive this benighted region than with a musical? This is the concept behind Maestoso's Grim, an album themed loosely around the all too representational, but fictional, Yorkshire town of Grimroyd. The idea may have been inspired by a Monty Python sketch (or not), but Woolly Wolstenholme transforms it into an epic journey across the past and present, through love and heartache, joy and sorrow, to explore the town's everyday life and the horror lurking in its shadows. As dramatic and all-encompassing as its theme, so, too is the music. Grim begins with a wryly tongue-in-cheek cinematic trailer for the forthcoming (again fictional) movie version, then thunder crashes, the symphonic strings are unleashed and we're off "Through a Storm" riding a pomp-rock steed straight into an emotional maelstrom.
A trio of lovely numbers follow -- the delicate "Love Is," the lilting "A Lark," and the dreamy "That's the Price You Pay," all expounding on life and love, the very simplicity of its lyrics capturing the essence of small town lives and concerns. And then "The Iceman Cometh" with a jangling of bells, a siren call to all children on a warm day. But what horror lurks in the dairy from which the cornets and sundaes pour forth? Shifting from breezy pop/rock to darkly ominous passages and in and out of prog rock, this is an Iceman worthy of Eugene O'Neill. Its evil spell is broken by the birds fluttering above "Hebden Bridge," gathering together in ever larger flocks, waiting for just the right moment to soar off on their migratory journey, taking wing on the music that so perfectly captures their flight.
Their comings and goings define the timeless seasons, providing a bridge back into the town's past with the Renaissance flavored instrumental "Loot" and the medieval mystery of "Harp + Carp," a Grimroyd folk tale that climaxes into a prog rocker of monstrous proportions. The "Birds" return to remind us that man's time is short and mostly meaningless compared to the vastness of the universe, a typical medieval motif that contrasts sharply with the hard rocking "Location, Location, Location," a sharp lance to the gut of proud little Englande burgers. The majestic "Abendrot" (which kicked off the live Fiddling Meanly set), makes a surprise reappearance, followed by a second instrumental, the grand "Overture: Marsch Burleske." Susanna d'Arcy joins Wolstenholme for the classical duet "Pas de Deux," which begins with the pair intertwined but ends with them worlds apart. Grim ends grimly enough in a London flat, the invariable refuge for generations of those fleeing from the likes of Grimroyd, who've all merely exchanged one hell-hole for another, while the music sweeps across genres and the decades. Inspired, incredibly clever, and beautifully wrought, Grim musically, at least, belies its title, featuring Wolstenholme and his band at their best, while the caustic, wry, ironic but rarely bitter lyrics give this stellar album great depth. A masterful achievement.