Grayceon, All We Destroy: As I Live and Breathe…

It was four years ago, so you’ll have to forgive me if I can’t remember just what it was that struck me as so problematic about cello-laden San Francisco three-piece Grayceon’s 2007 self-titled first album. I vaguely recall thinking the band were too smart for their own good, taking the tropes of doom and exploiting them while also somehow pretentiously positioning themselves above them intellectually. Or maybe I’m making that up and I just thought the songs sucked. I really don’t know. Whatever it was, it was enough to keep me away from 2008’s This Grand Show (released, like the first record, on Vendlus), and as Grayceon make their Profound Lore label debut with All We Destroy, and I revisit the trio’s sound – obviously developed some in the intervening time – it’s a mixture both intriguing and tight-knit. The cello of Jackie Perez Gratz (who has guested for Agalloch, Neurosis and Cattle Decapitation, and who also plays in Giant Squid) features heavily, counterbalanced by the guitar of Max Doyle and drums of Zack Farwell, both also of the thrash outfit Walken.

Gratz and Doyle contribute vocals to All We Destroy, though mostly the former, and Grayceon moves into and through different modes of heaviness as the six tracks play out. Second cut “Shellmounds” finds Farwell ripping through black metal blastbeats (cleverly mixed so as to not dominate Gratz’s overlying vocals), and opener “Dreamer Deceived” takes churning post-metal riffage and puts the onus on a vocal narrative and the varying atmosphere of the cello to stand Grayceon out, which, to the band’s credit, it does. Short cuts to quiet passages, interludes or whatever you’d want to call them, provide some respite from the crash, but there’s a tension in “Dreamer Deceived” that sets the tone for much of All We Destroy, and as Gratz and Doyle’s voices come together for combined semi-melodic chants, the experience is less that of a song than a performance. The diverse structures of the material – chorus-based but not necessarily chorus-dependent – feed that idea as well. Some background screaming (another black metal element to go with the drumming on “Shellmounds”) adds a glimpse of extremity, and the overall impression of the first two tracks is that while Grayceon have their feet in a variety of sounds, they feel no need to commit to one over the other. If you’re looking to pigeonhole them – as perhaps I was when I encountered their debut – they don’t make it easy.

“Shellmounds” has a satisfying linear build, made all the more effective by Doyle’s angular riff-work, but there’s no question that the meat of All We Destroy comes on with the staggering 17-minute “We Can.” Though it meanders some (how could it not?) with the metallic guitar at around eight minutes in, it’s Gratz’s most memorable vocal – the lines “As I live and breathe/You can’t save me” being especially chilling – and the point on All We Destroy where the band’s dynamic range most shines. An interplay of screams past the 10-minute mark reminds some of earlier Kylesa, but here, Grayceon are in territory all their own, and two minutes later, when they return to the huge central figure riff – the massive fucking plod of it – it’s as satisfying as the album gets, outshining the even-slower section that follows, Gratz running counter to Doyle and adding, true to the nature of her instrument, a melancholy and thoughtful feel to the song’s close. Honestly, “We Can” probably could have been the album itself and I’d still feel like I got my listen’s worth.

Nonetheless, Grayceon continue, leading almost directly into the folk-ish beginnings of “Once a Shadow,” which, like “Shellmounds,” had me missing the low end a bassist would provide in its heavier, later moments. The layers of vocals do much to fill out Grayceon’s approach, but there’s no replacing the thick-stringed heft, and especially as the cello so often moves into the higher-register, a bassist running counter can have excellent results – the latest Earth full-length comes to mind as an example. Nonetheless, I imagine that six-plus years into their time together, living in the creatively fertile Bay Area and on their third album, if Grayceon wanted a bassist they’d have one by now. The shorter, tighter “A Road Less Traveled” has me thinking less about it, but that might be because I’m just trying to keep up with the several changes, elemental shifts (more blasting from Farwell, not to be missed), and intricately arranged vocals. It’s short at 4:12, but “A Road Less Traveled” has just as much to offer in terms of diversity as any of the longer pieces on All We Destroy, and maybe more intensity as well. Up to its end, it seems to be the frantic payoff of that tension “Dreamer Deceived” first began building.

In that way, it might have made a good closer, but it serves just as well to set up the seven-minute finale “War’s End,” which, if the likeminded thematics of “Shellmounds” are anything to go by, is probably where it should be. Softer in the traditional sense of heaviness, and playing on some of the folk ideology “Once a Shadow” touched on in its intro, the finale of All We Destroy is no less accomplished than anything that precedes in terms of setting an atmosphere and constructing a world for the listener to inhabit. In fact, taken as a whole, Grayceon’s greatest accomplishment with their third album might be translating their wide-ranging breadth into a cohesive landscape, though the strength of this material at its most powerful should be second to nothing in such considerations, so I’m not going to say definitively one way or the other. Seems arbitrary, anyhow. More important to note is the pervasive complexity and the depth of progressivism that run throughout All We Destroy no matter which sonic turn Gratz, Doyle and Farwell might be making at any given moment. If my initial concern was the band’s pretentiousness, well, there are undeniably some aspects of their latest work that bear out a self-indulgent feel, but even the three players involved seem subservient to the music they’re creating, which is as it should be.

Grayceon on Facebook

Profound Lore

Tags: , , ,

One Response to “Grayceon, All We Destroy: As I Live and Breathe…”

  1. Stickman says:

    Love JPG’s cello playing, I’ll have to check this one out. btw, shell mounds are the sacred sites of the Ohlone people, some of them in and around SF existed for thousands of years.

Leave a Reply