Some music evokes such strong images that you wonder why its creators don’t get contracted more often for film work. Grayceon works the other way around. So dynamic and open is the band’s crossbreed of baroque romance and metallic gravity that you wonder why more filmmakers don’t clamor to create visuals for them. The synesthesia continues on Grayceon’s second full-length, This Grand Show, another chalice full of regal riffage from San Francisco’s best-known guitar-cello-drums metal trio.
Grayceon’s damn-near-perfect self-titled debut (2007) pointed in ten directions at once, and if its successor mostly follows down those same vectors rather than establishing new ones, that’s no major disappointment. This Grand Show makes good on its title, each track unfolding like heavy metal origami to reveal heroic, crunch-infused peaks, contemplative plangent passages and a whole variety of textures in between. The 10- and 20-minute runtimes are fully deserved — as on Grayceon, songs flow and develop with the sophistication of chamber music.
Plenty of metal bands take inspiration from the technical precision of the baroque classical era, but Grayceon explore Bach-like harmony and counterpoint as if they were a top-flight chamber trio moonlighting as a metal band. Max Doyle’s guitar and Jackie Perez Gratz’s cello dance ’round each other in fugal embrace during the graceful opening of “Sleep” and evolve into the kind of stately metal processional we haven’t heard arranged so well since …And Justice For All. Zack Farwell frames the minuet patterns in “It Begins, and So It Ends” with subtle cymbalwork, heightens the guttural thrash sections of “This Grand Show Is Eternal” with nimble accents and chunky double-kicking, and works Grayceon’s first blastbeats into “Sleep,” all the while complementing the rhythmic matrix of his bandmates. Farwell has to be one of the most limber drummers in the Bay Area.
The clear but raw recording on This Grand Show adds a welcome humility to the album: We can hear the grit of Perez Gratz’s bow as it saws against cello strings, the thick wallop of Farwell’s bass drum. Doyle’s Pink Floyd guitar ambience midway through “Sleep” actually feels humid. Not as helpful are Doyle and Perez Gratz’s vocals, which stay in monotone octaves most of the time — far too pedestrian for an album with enough musical pomp to fit castle courts and medieval battlefields. It’s a minor quibble. Grayceon are still in a league of their own.