Review: Grayceon – IV
A scorpion spreads its pincers and raises the cruel point of its stinger in a threat display. An immediate response is triggered in the viewer—the fear of pain, perhaps revulsion at the alien form of the arachnid. The same person’s reaction to seeing balloons or the rounded edges of a child’s toy will be altogether different: feelings of nostalgia, comfort, safety. Shapes helps us navigate both physically and emotionally, but our experiences with them aren’t limited to the visual portion of the senses. On their latest album, IV, SF-based prog/doom band Grayceon use a variety of musical textures, creating songs that are at once both heard and felt.
Although members of the violin family are frequently used in metal, they’re most often relegated to an auxiliary role—a bit of flavor used to stand out from the pack (or in the worst cases, to mask a lack of ideas). From her first notes in the opening track, “Sliver Moon,” it’s clear that Jackie Perez Gratz and her cello are integral to the band’s sound and overall identity. Her playing shows off the versatility of the instrument, ranging from jagged staccato in lockstep with Max Doyle’s fluid, rubbery riffs (particularly in “Sliver Moon” and “Slow Burn”) to expansive melodies. Her vocals are flexible as well, adapting to the frequent shifts in genre. Whether shoegazing or shrieking over blastbeats (“By-the-Wind Sailors”), she delivers the sparse lyrics with infectious energy.
As one element of a three-piece band, Gratz’s presence could’ve just as easily become overbearing, leaving Doyle and Zack Farwell (drums) with little to do in the background. One of the band’s strengths lies in their ability to share space within their compositions. Doyle’s blunt, low-gain tone inhabits the lower registers, filling the role of bassist and guitarist at once, while the cello, vocals and drums cut through to balance the songs. Combined with the clear, barebones production of Jack Shirley at The Atomic Garden studio, every subtlety of their playing can be heard.
Grayceon maintain this clarity throughout the album’s many changes in tone and tempo. From the frantic, thrash-influenced “…Sailors,” to the lurching doom of “Slow Burn,” Farwell provides a backbone for the songs with his complementary drumming. His rhythms mesh well with the disparate, layered riffs (a la early Opeth), never cluttering the airwaves with excessive flair.
However, it’s when the strings dial back the technicality and sync up with the drums that the trio is most effective. The hi-hat groove and “Kashmir”-on-steroids stomp at the end of “Scorpion” sound absolutely massive for the size of the band playing them. Overdubs on the cello and vocals are used sparingly to build intensity, scaling well with the grandiose “Let It Go.” Twangy clean guitar (reminiscent of Pallbearer) builds up throughout the track, giving way to booming chords and a beautiful melody from Gratz. This cathartic conclusion highlights the band’s talent for conjuring emotions.
IV is an album focused on exploring the emotional complexity of life. “The Point Of Me” delivers a dopamine hit of sharp riffs and (almost manic) joy in its short run time, and is followed by the melancholy “Pink Rose.” Accompanied by soothing vocals, Gratz describes a scene (memory?) of a woman on a beach, her whispered lyrics full of nostalgia and muted pain. The proximity of these different emotions could lead to a dissonant mess, but Grayceon handle the transitions with maturity throughout—creating an accurate depiction of the peaks and valleys of any given day.
3.5/5 Flaming Toilets
IV is out through Translation Loss Records and is also available on Bandcamp.