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Not Grand, But Certainly Good. - 75%

Perplexed_Sjel, November 21st, 2009

The American black metal scene is often subject to much criticism. The general consensus would say that it’s sub-par in relation to its European counterpart and, to an extent, that theory does have some truth to it. Outside of the black metal scene however, America is home to a number of articulate and artistic bands whose vision is spreading across the world with the same success that European bands are achieving, such as progressive metal/rock band Grayceon. In the search for new metal, I often look to associative bands to help me discover the best new talents and, once again, this technique has worked a treat as it has shown me to this eloquent and expressive progressive force through Jackie Perez Gratz, an experienced cello performer and vocalist from other such notable bands as Giant Squid, a similar sounding progressive metal/rock band from Austin, Texas. California has long since been recognised as a haven for metal talents, especially in regards to the Bay Area thrash movement and although I have no interest in that particular sector of metal, I have noticed a number of bands outside of thrash to have formed their roots in the California area. Incidentally, both Max Doyle and Zack Farwell are actually involved in a thrash band called Walken, whom I have not heard and am not particularly interested in.

On the basis of the material here, both Max’s and Zack’s other projects do not hold any influence over this band, though Zack’s drumming does pick up during ‘Sleep’, which entertains the idea of faster tempos and more steadfast instrumentation, albeit briefly. In fact, based on what occurs here, I would say that Jackie is an independent woman, leading the way in terms of what the band creates. Whether she is involved in the song writing process or not is unknown to me, but I imagine she had a high influence over what is written in and out of the songs on this record, entitled ‘This Grand Show’. Her charismatic leadership is never called into question as she is as talented as she is professional. I’ve always liked her as a performer as she has a unique voice and with it, she also performs on the electric cello, an instrument whose involvement in metal should really be stepped up. I love it when metal bands use classical instruments to portray their music, as Grayceon do with their leading cello section. With the omission of the bass from proceedings, we, the audience, is reliant upon a bright performance from Jackie on cello, which she duly delivers in some style. Although she obviously isn’t the only member of the band, her two jobs are pivotal to the sound of the band who rely heavily on her input on cello and, though not to the same extent, her vocals.

At times, these vocals can become sparse, as shown on ‘Sleep’, which draws out an eerie quality. The male vocals are fine, reminding me somewhat of Neurosis’ vocalist Scott Kelly. They don’t have much chance to lead the line since they’re usually performed alongside Jackie’s rather sultry voice, which inspires a feeling of a hidden jazz influence. This coupled with the classical sounding cello section, Grayceon have formed a successful sound through a good understanding of the others’ abilities. Though the bass is often a good back-up to the guitars, it doesn’t seem to be missed on this affair with the cello providing the emotional barrage that the subtle bass might have been responsible for had it been included. Following on from her undoubted success with Giant Squid, Jackie Perez Gratz has continued to further her individual career with successive smart moves onto similar ventures which have increased the intensity of the spotlight on her and her talents as a performer. I don’t think anyone could begrudge her for taking most of the credit for this fine achievement.

She is the central figure within this band, though guitarist Max Doyle is responsible for a fair amount of vocal styling’s too, as shown adeptly on songs like ‘Still The Desert’, which reminds me a lot of Giant Squid and the way in which the songs progress from moody to lightly textured by the ever present cello and clean dual vocals, though Max Doyle has a habit of descending into vague screams in the distance, which don’t particularly add anything to the structure of the multi-dimensional songs. Though there isn’t an awful lot to layer, with most elements being atop of the production, not buried deep beneath it, Grayceon still manage to acquire a thoughtful emotional balance, which is wonderfully shown on the epic, ‘Sleep’, which begins with a haunting cello and guitar combination. This is a really relaxing sophomore which could do with a bit more ambiance akin to what occurs during ‘Sleep’, but this is still a fairly good record and a decent follow-up to a record I haven’t had much time to listen to, but understand that is equally as good.