Grayceon return from hibernation with exciting, fun ‘Pearl and The End of Days’

The question “what is metal?” is one often posed on these pages, because it’s not a cut-and-dried issue. I have seen people wonder why others divide the genre into sub-genres and nitpick sounds, but you kind of have to do that, especially when writing about it for a living. At the same time, there certainly is a lot of conjecture on the matter, sometimes so much that it gets irritating.

I tend to like pulling things apart and overanalyzing metal because I love the music and want to think about it as much as I can. Over the years there have been bands that have made me think and question what is metal and what types of styles constitute it. And does a band have to be heavy, ear-piercing, and speedy in order to be deemed heavy metal? One of the bands along the way that have helped with my journey is Grayceon, a three-piece progressive band out of San Francisco led by the great Jackie Perez Gratz. She’s been a sort of cellist to the stars, having played on record for bands such as Agalloch and Cattle Decapitation, and she’s also a former member of Amber Asylum and a part of criminally underappreciated Giant Squid.

no tempWhat she does with Grayceon, however, is something altogether different. Yes, it has its heavy moments, and Gratz brings her incredible cello skills to the table, but this group has its own unique approach and identity, and their dramatic brand is unmistakably them. They might not scream “heavy metal” on first blush, but the more you hear them, the more it’s obvious the Grayceon belongs in the genre. Not that they need my stamp of approval. But their music is one that helped shape and stretch my understanding of extreme music and one I’ve always been grateful to have in my life.

Grayceon, of course, is not just Gratz. She’s joined by guitarist Max Doyle (who also kicks in on vocals) and drummer Zack Farwell. Their impressive run together opened on the band’s 2007 self-titled debut, went through to “This Grand Show” the following year, and then peaked with 2011’s “All We Destroy,” their debut for Profound Lore. Since then, Gratz became a mother for the first time, and the band went into a state of hibernation. They eventually reassembled, started writing again, and the result is their new two-track, 30-minute “Pearl and The End of Days,” strategically named for each cut on the record.

“Pearl” is your opener, naturally, and it’s pretty classic Grayceon in style and delivery. It runs a few ticks past 10 minutes and is dramatic and sweeping. It sounds wrapped in folklore, though that’s just because of its expansive, unfurling nature, and after some quivering strings and sweeping dynamics, it rips into a growl and violent pummeling. Gratz lets her voice get punishing and violent, the band allows sludginess to bleed into the picture, and the cinematic qualities the band has in spades really come out for a show here. It’s a killer song, one that is one of the better songs in the group’s time together.

“The End of Days” is more than 17 minutes long, and it’s a gigantic curveball for the band. They let loose and have a lot of fun here, and the lyrics, while awash in Armageddon, are caught up in the spirit of rock and roll and heavy metal, and about how if we have a chance to pick how we spend our final moments, we might pick rocking out over everything. “We rock your rolling stone,” Gratz howls at the top of her lungs, practically joyfully. The band even lets each member have a section to themselves to solo and show off and be fucking rock stars, like they’re playing on a gigantic stage, with well-wishers and disciples following along with their every move for one last night on Earth. It sounds like such a huge release for them, and while it’s a little strange to get used to at first, the song just captures you and spirits you away.

These two songs are examples of why I always have loved Grayceon so much. Their music is inventive and dramatic, they don’t sound like a purely heavy metal band, and Gratz is such a great musician, one of the most creative in extreme music. This is a fantastic bridge to (I hope!) a new full-length record and gives Grayceon a door back into the conversation. This band never disappoints, and these 30 minutes are a total treasure to witness.

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