Primitive Origins: Granicus’ “Granicus”

Primitive Origins is a column where we’ll look back at proto-metal and early metal that deserves a bit of your battered eardrum’s attention. We’re keeping it loose and easy here: there’s no strict guidelines other than it’s gotta be old, it helps if it’s obscure, and it’s gotta rock out surprisingly hard for its context. Pscyh-ed out proto-metal from the late ’60s? Of course. Early attempts at doom metal from the ’70s? Hell yeah. Underground Soviet metal from the early ’80s? Sure. Bring it on. Bring it all on.

Cleveland’s Granicus only put out one album in the ’70s, back in 1973 (they put out albums in 2010—featuring early-era unreleased material—and 2016, after getting back together). But that 1973 self-titled album is a wonderful piece of proto-metal, the band screaming and pounding through a great production sound, retroactively flipping Daft Punk a finger for even bothering to rip off/pay homage to the album’s cover art (look it up), unknowingly laying down a classic album without even realizing it.

Indeed, Granicus’ self-titled record is worthy of further exploration through a proto-metal lens, so let’s analyze the rockin’ sounds found within it right now.

Opener “You’re In America” absolutely kills it, the band raging wild with an MC5-meets-Zep’s-heaviest-moments attack, the vibe approaching punk even though the tunes are firmly based in classic rock and proto-metal. Wow, man: this is one hell of an opener, the vocals of Woody Leffel just wailing, the band crashing and burning, everything about this song putting Granicus one step above many of their proto-metal peers in terms of sheer sonic intensity. Love it.

Then we move on to “Bad Talk,” where the guitars shine through with a southern twang and a bluesy feel (but not boring bluesy, soulful and rockin’ bluesy). The tempos pick up mid-song to a speed most bands of the era wouldn’t touch, before things drop back down again to a mid-paced, swampy groove. In other words, proto-NOLA sounds, right here.

After those first two ragers, makes sense that one might want a bit of reprieve, so the band lays down the beautiful “Twilight,” which is very much reminiscent of the moody acoustic numbers Zep would do that weren’t really ballads but certainly weren’t rockers, the band really creating an atmosphere and vibe here that, sure, would work even better if you were stoned out of your mind like everyone else was in ’73, but still sounds good today stone-cold sober. Impressive.

Next up is side A closer “Prayer,” which clocks in around 10 minutes and starts off as a slow trudge of an ominous dirge before the band kicks up into a brisk tempo, guitar solo seemingly endless, then back to dirge. It feels, again, very Zeppelin-y, but it’s super convincing. The song builds to a rager of a climax, saving it from the doldrums it threatens to veer to at its midpoint. Not as amazing as the first two songs here, but still tons of spirit and, yeah, I do love that huge build in the final third.

Side B of the original vinyl kicks off with the absolutely raging “Cleveland, Ohio,” a song you need to stop whatever you’re doing to listen to right now. Lyrically, sounds like the band was struggling with what everyone struggles with: trying to get out of their hometown. Musically, they ain’t struggling with nothing, as the Detroit rock/proto-metal sounds make Zep a bit red in the cheeks, Granicus absolutely killing it through this excellent song.

“Nightmare” is next, and it’s another sprawler, the band taking over 8 minutes to make their point, much of the first half of that runtime spent tripping out pretty hard on the quiet atmospherics. Eh, take it or leave it, but when Granicus then step on the gas and rock hard for the second half, look out: that’s one vicious vocal attack, the guitar solo escalating, drummer giving it all he’s got back there… nice save, guys. The ending gets quiet again, but by this point it works, the band really bringing the listener on a journey from point A to point B and back again.

“When You’re Movin’” is a brisk rocker, the band starting off with a killer boogie riff that gets heavier when everyone starts bashing and crashing, the song building into a fantastic climax, guitar solo everlasting, vocals all over the place, Granicus somehow creating epic out of brisk rocker, sort of like Rush covering Neurosis but making a radio edit of it. With integrity.

To end things off, we get “Paradise,” a sturdy, solid, anthemic closer that more or less walks the listener through all things great about Granicus: the trashing and crashing rock, the huge builds and frantic energy, the quiet but not sappy parts that are basically just waiting to explode… it’s all here, and when it does explode, man, it just invites you back for repeat listens, something that will happen with this fantastic album. And check out the speed that the band brings at 5:26; this is great stuff for the era and it’s held up excellently, definitely worthy of more attention than it gets in proto-metal discussions.

Granicus’ GranicusThe Decibel breakdown:

Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: Definitely not.

Heaviness factor: One of the fastest bands in terms of bpms we’ve discussed in this column; the riffs take Zep and heavy it up, but still don’t knock Sabbath off the heavy-for-the-time throne.

Obscura Triviuma: The band was dropped by RCA after this record didn’t do well; they broke up that same year, 1973. They got back together in 2016.

Other albums: 2010’s Thieves, Liars, and Traitors (consisting of unreleased material from 1973 and 1974) and 2016’s Better Days.

Related bands: Pi Corp, Pandora.

Alright, fine, if you must: It was 1973, so, sure, light one up.