A typical power trio? No, an atypical power trio – that’s what Grayceon’s Bandcamp page tells me, and the reason is immediately apparent when you press play on Mothers Weavers Vultures. I’ll give you some impressions of the music shortly, but first some introductions; despite having played as a unit for a long time (this is album number five) they’re new to me, and they may be to you too. Grayceon are a three-piece from San Francisco, consisting of Jackie Perez Gratz on electric cello/vocals, Max Doyle on guitar/vocals, and Zack Farwell on drums. Something else that’s new to me – the presence of a cello in metal.
They tend to be described as progressive metal, progressive rock, post-rock, or even cello metal, although that last one seems a bit disparaging. The truth behind all of those vague descriptors is that this music is unusual, inventive, and hard to pin down. At forty three minutes for only five songs, you could also say epic and sprawling.
The album opens with unaccompanied cello on Diablo Wind. A drone note and a repeating melody, melancholy and a little Middle Eastern to my ears, are soon joined by clean-toned guitar and drums. The tension increases, unhurriedly but inexorably, and by the time the vocals arrive, the band has hit top gear. The lyrics are a warning about a dire future for the world, and the tension is palpable: ‘A darkness breeds in hearts of men. The future is dark.’ The dynamics are impressive, but the focus is never broken. Strong start.
After the metallic rush of the opener, we move to more introspective territory. Second tune The Lucky Ones is the longest track on the album, at nearly thirteen minutes, so you know there’ll be no hurrying to the finish. It begins life in mellow mode, with mournful cello, harmony vocals, and bombastic power balladry, before an abrupt change to a sound that veers from folky to thrashy, maybe even proggy.
Many of the vocal melodies live on in my head for hours after listening…
This Bed is another long one, and for the most part mellow-ish: slow and heavy passages with languid cello lines interweave with quieter, sparser parts. Both songs are well constructed, but I confess I’m looking forward to more of the unabated punchiness of the opening track; there the quieter passages feel like a brief respite from the heaviness, rather than an emotional contrast.
And Shine On is short and decisive, at less than four minutes. It’s followed by Rock Steady, another slow and gentle tune that eventually finds its way to a chuggingly heavy conclusion.
This is a good album. Many of the vocal melodies live on in my head for hours after listening, and I like and appreciate the skill and imagination that’s gone into the album’s creation. Unfortunately it’s not one that’s destined for much ongoing play in my house. It took several listens before I was able to articulate to myself what I felt was unsatisfying or lacking; in many parts it’s the softening effect of adding bowed strings to what would otherwise be a fairly harsh sound. A plucked string is a sharper sound than a bowed one, and that’s what my ears are tuned to.
Maybe I’m way off the mark. Maybe I’m just uneducated or narrow-minded, but the metal that really resonates for me is that which stays a touch closer to its blues or punk roots; you’ll probably get more out of this if you enjoy the more progressive or operatic territories of the metalliverse.
Scribed by: Rob Bryant