Grayceon – The Grand Show

Grayceon
The Grand Show

While it could be debated that King Crimson was the first true “Progressive Rock” band, there is no question that it is among the most influential. Renowned in the genre for pioneering a heavier, more complex and frantic sound, its incorporation of classical instruments with standard rock gear has influenced many since its 1969 debut. One such band is Grayceon, that, with its second LP, The Grand Show, would make Robert Fripp and Co. proud.

Surprisingly, this San Francisco powerhouse, which formed in 2005, is a trio. At the helm are Jackie Perez Gratz on electric cello and vocals, Max Doyle on guitar and vocals, and Zack Farwell on drums. They define their work as “dark, melodic, doom driven passages that will appeal to fans of the neo-classical post-rock, metal, indie, and experimental scenes.” This is a fairly accurate self description of the album, which plays like a less diverse and interesting offering from Anekdoten. The Grand Show, like all works, is not without its flaws, but its strengths outrank them.

“It Begins, And So It Ends” is not only the overall best track on the album, and its opener, but it’s also a great foreshadowing of how the last track ends. It opens with some cello and low guitar tones playing ominously, with the drum kit escorting them. Soon the riffs come in as the tension builds into an explosion of apocalyptic chaos. The usage of the cello as an aid of fear, as well as the pure dynamics, reminds one of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Near the end, there is a time change reminiscent of Gentle Giant’s “Prologue” from Three Friends. It is intense and concise as it segues into “Still The Desert,” which is more than twice as long as the previous track and has a sadder approach. However, this piece has slower moments and overall isn’t as engaging as its predecessor, though it, like all the songs, follows the some basic formula (which isn’t a bad thing).

The centerpiece of The Grand Show is the opus “Sleep,” a twenty-one minute, multi-parted suite. It begins rather quietly and simply with the cello and guitar, which play more solemnly and carefully than on the opening moments of “It Begins…” Its sections are engaging and catastrophic, like all of The Grand Show, but they feel like individual tracks instead of pieces to a larger puzzle (there are pauses of silence in-between them). The middle part is pure post-rock noise sound collage, but it succeeds in conveying the sorrowful aftermaths associated with that style. The ending portion, with its fiery guitar and slicing cello, emotes like watching a house burn down right in front of you.

“Love Is” opens with a more optimistic vibe, but that only lasts half a minute before we’re thrust again into the disarray. The cello melody is especially engaging in these first dozen measures. The rest of the piece is standard fare for Grayceon, which likes to force its attack to its breaking point and then pull away, granting you a second to breathe. “The Grand Show Is Eternal” closes the album, and along with “It Begins…,” has the distinction of being under ten minutes. This piece ventures into pure, basic metal territory, and as such, Metallica are shown to be a key to Grayceon’s instrumental mixture. It ends as the album began (hence the title), repeating some quick melodies and riffs to bring the whole affair full circle.

For all of their skill and creativity as musicians, Grayceon is lacking when it comes to vocals. On all but the starting track, the dual vocals are present, and they only distract from the music. Neither one of the “singers” is pleasant to hear, and they don’t harmonize well. At points, they reach operatic quality which brings an element of unintentional humor and cheesiness to the proceedings. In addition, their melodies are only a step away from basic conversation. As much as The Grand Show reveals about the trio as fine players, it also shows that they would be betters suited as an instrumental act.

Grayceon produces great music with mediocre vocals. Unfortunately, this is a familiar problem among promising acts. Their music isn’t the most varied or new, but they succeed at what they attempt (musically at least). It’s easy to get past the lackluster singing and appreciate their proficiency at creating intricate music. And, if you dig what they’re saying as well, more power to you. This sophomore entry is something to be proud of, and fans of the genre (especially King Crimson) should definitely give it a listen.