If anyone makes a documentary about starving to death in a dungeon, they should look no further than Grey Host for the soundtrack.
The band’s dark sound is driven by John Sebastian and Jason Nix’s down-tuned guitars blasted through stacks of amps. The drums, battered by Zac Schmidt, are slow and menacing, as if he’s drumming to the pace of oarsmen. Subtle textures made by Evan Roberts’ keyboards aid in reaching the droning, hypnotic state Grey Host’s music induces.
“We all come from different musical backgrounds and I think that helps us have something of a unique sound in the end,” Sebastian says. “It’s great being in a band with such versatile musicians. They’re not afraid to get weird and try something that isn’t necessarily Metal.”
It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine Grey Host’s songs violently screamed by cloaked warlocks in ancient and savage times, the drumming on bleached skulls and cleaved shields, melodies whistled through fifes and the rhythm strummed on a spruce lute strung with dragon gut.
Grey Host’s take on Doom Metal supports a different kind of headbanging — a calculating and sinister rhythm that makes direct eye contact with strangers at a Metal show even more uncomfortable than usual. This isn’t party music, unless you count a drunken night of Dungeons and Dragons as a party; something like Stoner Metal with a darker, more twisted imagination.
“It usually starts on the back of a riff … a massive beast of burden used as a vehicle for the other pieces,” Sebastian says.
“Brutal” is a great blanket term in describing Grey Host’s sound, but it’s not masochistic, nor does it possess the machismo of many overcompensating Hardcore bands.
Thankfully, this is a band that does not rely on a tired convention that requires every song to have a “breakdown.” There are so many different ways a band can be “brutal,” so it should be noted that their breed of brutality is comparable to the jagged stroke of an axeman who overtly enjoys his job. Grey Host is interested in painting a gnarled and soulless sonic landscape that tricks you into lowering your guard enough so it might land a killing blow.
The name “Grey Host” evokes an archetypal dread that no single culture can claim. Taken directly from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the Grey Host was one of the many names given to the cursed army of undead men of the mountain who broke their oaths to Isildur and did not fight against Sauron (“the ghost army” for fans of the third installment of Peter Jackson’s film series). Tolkien based this ghastly banner on what European folklorists call the Wild Hunt, or what we Americans might recognize as the Ghost Riders in the Sky.
All of the imagery associated with the band is illustrated by Sebastian (guitar/vocals), which makes the artwork included with Grey Host’s album, Dawn for Vultures, seem like a Dungeons & Dragons players handbook. The macabre drawings reinforce the music’s dark tone, introducing a sense of dread and consternation. The music of Grey Host, coupled with Sebastian’s chillingly effective artwork, evokes a feeling akin to preparing for a battle or gritting your teeth in defiance of a Nordic winter wind.
“I always saw (Grey Host) as an opportunity to create and work and develop my style, even early on in the band’s inception,” Sebastian says. “I could draw, so it was a no-brainer.”
Sebastian consistently puts out stellar artwork, both professionally and casually (he’s one-half of the duo behind “Drunk Music Reviews,” a series of illustrations humorously depicting live shows). Grey Host’s new album needed a lot of creative input from all of its members to arrive at the finished product.
“We all have our jobs aside from doing the music,” Sebastian says. “Zac and Jason recorded and mixed the album. We’re kind of an in-house production team, so why not do it ourselves? It made way more work for us, but it makes it that much more satisfying to hold the album in our hands. Like Winston Zeddemore says, ‘We have the tools, we have talent!’ ”
If you can appreciate that Ghostbusters quote, Grey Host will feel like home (haunted as it may be). Grey Host is an instrumental ghost story that spooks you into enjoying yourself. Safety not guaranteed.
GREY HOST (facebook.com/greyhost) performs Tuesday at Mayday in Northside with Windhand.