posted on 2/2007 By:
In my recent review of Swedish prog rock act Wolverine, I bemoaned the state of so-called progressive rock. To abbreviate the argument, I feel that prog rock has lost touch with its goals; instead of actually progressing, most of the genre’s practitioners are content to rehash past explorations. But if Wolverine are a typically stagnant prog band, San Francisco’s Grayceon are the real deal. This self-titled debut is as legitimately progressive as they come these days, not to mention as meticulously detailed and beautifully crafted as anything I’ve heard so far this year.
Grayceon is a composite group of sorts. Featuring Max Doyle (guitars) and Zack Farwell (drums) of excellent San Fran thrashers Walken, the band’s lineup is rounded out by one Jackie Perez Gratz on cello and vocals. Gratz is a veteran of long-running Relapse act Amber Asylum as well as a new member of the up-and-coming Giant Squid, not to mention a contributor to albums by the likes of Today is the Day and Neurosis, so you could say she’s something of a genre-buster veteran. It certainly comes out in Grayceon’s songwriting; this trio’s sound is immediately distinct and unusual. Spanning 45 minutes with just four songs, Grayceon is a sprawling journey through the minds of three musicians who seem bent on both pushing boundaries and expressing as many different emotions as possible along the way.
Though perhaps ‘songs’ isn’t really the right term. Firstly, only the fiercely brief “Song For You” resembles a normal song in terms of dimensions; the rest are far more elaborate and dynamic than traditional rock or metal songs. Secondly, there’s not much singing going on. Though Gratz injects ethereal vocal lines occasionally and sometimes conducts hair-raising harmonies with Doyle, the vast weight of these compositions rests on the instrumentation, and some fuckin’ instrumentation it is, too. Somewhat neoclassical (and not in the Yngwie sense) in both melodic feel and structure, these tracks are stunningly elegant and tasteful examples of cooperative musicianship. The most immediately obvious point of comparison is Apocalyptica, though far more textured and melodically diverse. Though Gratz’s cello lines are both rhythmic and eloquent, the real star of the show is Max Doyle’s guitar work. Using an unusual finger-picked style and an arsenal of trebly, low-gain tones, Doyle employs a seemingly endless vocabulary of chords to generate an incredibly broad spectrum of moods, from folky to progressive to…thrash riffs and borrowed Fleetwood Mac bits? Sure is strange, but it sounds impressively organic anyway. The two instruments dodge and twist through a maze of lead and rhythm segments that, while initially overwhelming, are frequently quite beautiful. Driving the clouds of harmony is the rollicking, powerful single-peddle drumming of Zack Farwell. Though his roll-heavy bombast seems out of place at first, it lends reams of urgency to the otherwise somewhat ponderous music. A sparse but booming production emphasizes both the intimacy of the drum-free moments and the heft of Grayceon’s more intense passages.
It’s obviously somewhat difficult to capture Grayceon’s sound on paper, but trust me: this album is a treasure trove for those with a taste for the unusual and enough patience to tolerate long, multi-segment songs. Honestly, the heartbreakingly mournful ending of “Sounds Like Thunder” and the four minutes of riff brilliance that constitute the final third of “Into The Deep” are worth the price of this disc alone. Grayceon have released an inventive and vivid debut that easily bests most metal released this year. Looks like Vendlus Records has gotten another good start in 2007. Highly recommended.
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