When it comes to the “progressive” label, the music that is labeled as such usually doesn’t fit what the listener’s concept of progressive is. The label is a subjective one, as sometimes, music that is considered to be progressive doesn’t fall under that label. Because of progressive metal’s tendency to feature technical complexity, lengthy instrumental passages, and various foreign influences like an uncommon instrument – in this case, the cello – the label can become broad and confusing. Thus, with Grayceon‘s IV being labeled as a progressive metal album, I decided to dive in and see whether the label actually fits.
Spoiler alert: labeling is both subjective and complicated.
The first thing that caught my attention about IV was the cello. Usually, classical instruments act as the backing part of the band when it comes to metal, and there are few bands that use classical instruments as prominent pieces in the music (i.e. Apocalyptica). However, on this album, the cello was front and center, creating the main melody and became the main bridge that created texture between the guitar and the drums. This gave the music a neoclassical flair that continued to catch momentum as the album progressed. By the time the third song, “Scorpions,” begins, the cello is fully ingrained, creating a wall of sound that seemed to slow down everything outside of itself. This is a testament to Jackie Perez-Gratz’s superb technical playing, as the cello accompanies when it has to, but it also controls the direction the album goes. From personal experience, cellos are usually not the focus in any orchestra unless the piece played demands it. As Perez-Gratz stated on an interview with Your Last Rites,
“I don’t really have anything to compare it to [in reference to why she stands out as a cellist in a metal band], since I’ve never been in a band playing a different instrument. During my youth, I played in orchestras, and the whole point of having 8 cellos in the section was to NOT stand out! But, by virtue of playing an atypical instrument in a scene that is typical (and I don’t mean that in a bad way), I stand out.”
The cello also heightens the vibrancy and mood of the music. Because of the instrument’s apparent versatility, it helps that it remains the constant, focal point while the music changes dynamic. From moving, florid passages to slow, atmospheric backing, the instrument adds something extra that is purely dependent on the listener.
What I also enjoy about IV is how it breaks the progressive label, as it doesn’t fit in my perceived notion of what progressive metal is supposed to sound like. Instead of the aforementioned characteristics listed at the beginning, the music is dreary, slow, and somber, as if IV qualifies more as a doom record. While it lacks the more overt characteristics of doom metal – the heavy distortion, the incredibly slow pacing, the dramatic vocal flair – the music still has a dreary atmosphere and tone that heavily reminds me of Tonight’s Decision-era Katatonia. There are elements of stoner metal embedded in the melody, creating a sultriness that evokes something otherworldly yet intimate. It’s almost as if Grayceon is inviting the listener to fully submerge themselves into the music and the layered atmosphere it creates. Once it grabs you, it suffocates you until it lets you go, only to pull you back in again.
All in all, IV is an album that has both stoner/doom and neoclassical metal influences that makes the progressive label seem narrow in scope. The album is hypnotic, densely layered, and beautiful, with superb musicianship keeping the music interesting and alluring. Regardless of whatever subgenre IV falls under – whether it is “progressive” metal or the overly technical “neoclassical doom” metal – you cannot deny that IV is a record that will stay with you long after it has stopped playing.
Welcome back, Grayceon!