It’s a mystery why so many American heavy-metal bands still draw on the mythologies of Tolkien, Crowley and various pre-Christian religions when there’s so much rich cultural lore in their backyards. On this limited-edition seven-inch split, Giant Squid and Grayceon offer distinct spins on the American dream, using the allure of the West as a metaphor for greed, grief and loss. The mythos is mostly coded into their lyrics, but Giant Squid and Grayceon are musical pioneers, too, and this release finds both bands pushing further toward the heavy-metal frontier.
“Sutter’s Fort” is the most savage track Giant Squid has ever committed to tape. Aaron Gregory and Aurielle Zeitler (Gregory’s ex-wife) trade feral snarls and screams over a Neurosis-style skullcrush in the first section. They’re interrupted by Gregory’s Serj Tankian-esque wail and a roller-rink organ that only intensifies the doom. A three-minute stretch of glassy guitar, piano and Zeitler’s quavering question, “Where has everybody gone?/ Search of promises of gold?” sets up the hammering brutality of the finale, and a deathless response: “Pyrite is all you’ll find/ A perfect treasure for fools.”
Giant Squid recorded “Sutter’s Fort” in the midst of two members departing and the dissolution of Gregory and Zeitler’s marriage. It’s unclear whether the hurt and loss apparent in the song directly address all this interpersonal turmoil, but all speculations aside, “Sutter’s Fort” hits a raw nerve.
The members of Grayceon gallop and prance across wide-open metallic terrain on “The West.” The beginning figure re-imagines Mastodon’s “Iron Tusk” as a low-key metal trio piece for finger-picked electric guitar, drums and electric cello. A baroque pastoral section turns into a visceral crunch-a-thon, then goes all classical thrash -- Zack Farwell’s drums pound out hoofbeats, guitarist Max Doyle digs in his spurs with chunky palm-muting, and cellist Jackie Perez-Gratz (now also a member of Giant Squid) holds the reins on this bumpy ride. Perez-Gratz shouts, “There’s no more frontier left in the West!/ All hope is lost for roaming in the West!” but she’s mistaken. “The West” is essentially a shorter trot over the same fertile soil that Grayceon covered in its excellent debut from last year, but the band’s still roaming free in the undiscovered hinterlands of metal.
The two halves complement each other perfectly, the Giant Squid half with its bulky emotional heft, the Grayceon half with neoclassical riffs and precision musicianship. Only five-hundred copies of the split exist, and one of them was already used for this review. Go west, young man: This one’s almost worth buying a record player for.
Giant Squid: http://giantsquidlives.com
“Sutter’s Fort” MP3: http://www.myspace.com/giantsquid
“The West” MP3: http://www.myspace.com/grayceon