This Grand Show
Everyone has seen ‘em: those seemingly random RIYLs ("Recommended If You Like..." - followed by a string of band names) that reviewers, publicists and record labels use as shorthand to describe a new artist. Employing RIYLs can be shortsighted and risky, however, if it dredges up (a) spurious/obscure comparisons, (b) too-disparate, even contradictory, influences listed, or (c) trendy shit that just annoys you so much you want to chuck the album before even hearing it. (Does anyone really want another fey singer-songwriter namechecking Nick Drake?) Bottom line: sometimes there's just no substitute for a well-chosen descriptor, and invoking other bands, while not necessarily verboten, can backfire when you're trying to get across a concrete impression of the artist at hand.
San Fran trio Grayceon's second album This Grand Show arrives with a quartet of RIYL tags featured prominently in the press materials. Hyperbole alert? Actually, in this instance those listed - Pelican, Priestbird, Opeth, Neurosis - all combine as a collective stew of influences to pretty much nail the Grayceon aesthetic, and I mean that in a hugely positive, sense.
The record comprises three lengthy tunes bookended by two shorter ones, so right off it's telegraphed that you'll get some prog action from the band. The cello/guitar/drums outfit tends to rub shoulders with instrumental outfits (both in reviews and in the physical world) even though Grayceon does feature vocals, which are doubled and bear gothic overtones, but not so much ominous as darkly romantic thanks to an irresistible guy-gal dynamic. That said, with those long songs clocking in at 11, 13 and 21 minutes, there's a lot of leeway to assess matters along instrumental lines, too.
RIYL: The art-metal stylings of Pelican peek out from these suitelike compositions, notably in the flurries of metronomic, ratatat percussion and the chugging, arpeggiated/angular riffage. The Priestbird connection arrives by way of Jackie Gratz' cello textures casting an undeniable neoclassical vibe at times. Swedish death metallers Opeth might seem an odd comparison until one considers that band's predisposition to crafting songs of the ten minutes-plus variety and an occasional reliance on string arrangements. And finally Neurosis, specialists in heavy/light dynamics and tension-wound arrangements spontaneously erupting into sheets of noise, are proximate elder kin (or perhaps mentors) to Grayceon, whose precision flights of sonic serendipity frequently veer off on kamikaze missions so dizzying that it's all one can do to hold on to the seat with one hand and cover the eyes with the other.
Grayceon is at once propulsive and epic, leap-frogging over time signatures while making hairpin turns that would give lesser players whiplash, and serving up a thick, heady miasma of sound that's rooted equally in ‘70s British prog (think King Crimson) and ‘80s Bay Area thrash metal (Metallica - there's a moment near the end of the song "Love Is" that finds the cello and guitar in a deathly duel that's pure Hetfield-Hammett). At the same time, like those groups outlined in the preceding paragraph, Grayceon has carved out a style that's fresh and challenging enough to be utterly contemporary. RIYL? Absolutely. We like.
Standout Tracks: "Love Is," "It Begins, and So It Ends" FRED MILLS