Well, if you haven’t heard of Grayceon, you are not alone. As of this moment, their full-album video of IV on YouTube has a whopping 310 views, at least a dozen of which are from me. They are indeed a unique band, and I’ll let them describe themselves—from their bandcamp page: “Atypical three-piece from San Francisco comprised of electric cello, guitar, drums, and vocals. Pulling together an extremely diverse range of musical influences, Grayceon’s sound defies the boundaries of the metal/rock/progressive genres. Screaming melodic lines over distinct guitar ‘chunk,’ doom riffs, jazz chord progressions, intricate folk-like delicacies, and just about everything in between.” Well said.
I must admit, I’m new to this group, but something about them captured me immediately. IV has this paradoxical quality of sounding both completely unrefined and yet like it’s coming from sage, accomplished, masterful musicians. I think both are true. The members of Grayceon are relatively young, but they’ve been together since 2005, and IV is as you may expect, their fourth full-length release and it’s their sixth overall. So, they are practiced, accomplished, talented musicians, and it’s clear to me that the rawness of IV comes from two places. First, the songs have a very organic, experimental quality, which certainly fits with their eclectic sound. Second, they clearly have opted for a more raw audio quality on the production of the album. I can’t be certain, but I’m fairly confident that these songs were recorded in a live play-through. The sound quality is more like the product an avant-garde punk band would be looking for. It’s not something you often see in the conventional metal music of today, but certainly isn’t foreign to post-rock, which is a genre you certainly could argue Grayceon falls into. The mix also might remind you of some of those early psychedelic acts, who simply didn’t have the money/technology to deliver a crisper sound. For me, it begs the question of what this album would sound like if the tracks were recorded separately, and with the most refined sound quality. It would certainly be a different experience at very least.
Putting the production aside, the songs are beyond intriguing. As the band themselves aptly described it, the music is comprised of a mosaic of rock, metal, jazz, folk, doom, and melodic sections. The vocals are largely clean, but there are the occasional overlaid screams. The one element that immediately sticks out is the electric cello. These strings, along with the sound production give the whole product a very old, earthy, sylvan quality, much like that of the post rock group Grails. The riffs are very original, and the way the cello often mirrors the guitars gives them an unmatched density. This is best displayed in the outro of the opening track, “Silver Moon.”
Where “Silver Moon” delivers some groovy, rocking riffs, the second track, “By-the-Wind Sailors” largely shifts gears. It is an agonizingly sad song, opening with a somber, soft section, and then transitioning into a fevered allegro section, complete with screams and some nice drum work. They stop the beat for a moment, and then finish the song with another furied section that drags you along with it.
Track three, “Scorpion,” again takes a completely new direction. They establish a groovy, chuggy riff that carries through most of the song, repeating far more than a commercial band would ever dare. Another surprise comes from the held out, lamenting vocals, which almost mimic middle-eastern, Islamic singing. I don’t think it’s by accident that the vocals transport me to the dessert in this way, and the title of the track is “Scorpion.”
By track four, it’s obvious the degree to which Grayceon value diversity of sound. “Let it Go” is a lumbering, somber ballad. This is the “doom” influence the band mentions they have. The song is slow, sad, and the climax of each line is capped with an effective scream. The cello holds back until the conclusion, at which point it’s long, deep, flowing chords successfully solidify the melancholy tone of the track.
The cello in “Slow Burn” does anything but hold back. Here, the cello actually carries the melody for most of the song, allowing the chugging guitars to fill in the backdrop. “Slow Burn” is ironically one of the quickest tracks on the album and is completely instrumental, until after the two minute mark, where the tempo drops like a rock, and the vocals come back. The vocals have a very Alice in Chains quality in this track. It finishes with a delicious cello interlude before immediately transitioning into “The Point of Me.” I applaud the masterful juxtaposition of these two tracks. No time to breath between them. “The Point of Me” is a much simpler, fun, rock song, that feels more like a nice appendage to the previous track than anything.
“Pink Rose” is the true ballad of the album. It’s reminiscent of an ancient Irish folk song. It’s a short, quiet, beautiful song. Clean guitars, understated cello, whispered voices. Your mom would love this one, but I appreciate it too.
The album finishes with “Dreamers,” a nearly eight minute song full of the types of unexpected fills and transitions you ought to expect by this point. The vocals once again channel Layne Staley. I love the transitional riffs that come in at the three minute mark. The song again completely resets at 4:27. Complete tempo change, with the cello carrying the riff, which repeats for over a full minute. Then, they go back into total doom mode for a moment, and then fall back into that groovy, repeating riff. There’s a full minute of fade-out to kiss you goodnight. Fun finish.
IV has some of the most original guitar riffs I’ve heard in a long time, sometimes mirrored by the cello, sometimes filling in the gaps. With only three members, they put out a lot of sound, and there are myriad flavors and dynamic shifts throughout. If you are looking for something different, this post-rock-prog-metal-jazz-doom-folk trio will certainly deliver. After multiple listens, parts of IV certainly stick with you.
In some ways, the traditional, old-school production of this album is refreshing in a sea of auto-tuning, digital enhancements, synthesizers and sampled drums. On the other hand, every time I hear this band I wonder what it would sound like if given the full-on Fallujah treatment. Maybe next time. I get the impression that Grayceon don’t really have a ceiling. They are beyond creative, and bring sounds to the table you won’t find elsewhere, so who knows what they will do next. I’ll be watching.
FAVORITE TRACK: “Scorpion”
RELEASE DATE: 5/18/18
FOR FANS OF: Baroness, Grails