By Kane Power (@ElHeavio)
The name Vera Grace conjures up a certain image; a kindly grandma, a shuffling old dear with a sunhat playing a game of bridge. Not an ideal association for a hardcore band. Their name doesn’t seem to reference anyone famous, such as US metalcore act Norma Jean, and since I can’t find anything obvious after a quick search, I like to think it’s just an ode to the sweet grandma of one of the band members.
Described as a modern hardcore concept EP, Novella explores a variety of ideas within what is really a kind of metal/post-rock crossover, and while it’s difficult for the unfamiliar to discern all of the lyrics, the EP feels deliberate and driven. It offers the feeling of a narrative even if the finer story beats remain unclear, each track feeling purposeful from opener ‘Exposition’ to closing track ‘Scene II – Catharsis’.
Highlight track ‘12_04’ offers the most potent moment, the guitars exuding a convincing menace and the vocal delivery the most determined of the six tracks. Sections build and change with precise effect and new ideas are introduced smoothly; something Vera Grace achieve with ease throughout.
A stand-out aspect of Novella is the prominent post-rock lead guitar which sits high in the mix, masking the fact that the songs are often lacking compelling rhythm guitar riffs. This might be unintentional, as it seems Vera Grace are going for a specific, emotive sound, but it is noticeable that the riffs get better when the lead guitar drops out.
Also puzzling is the mimicry of play script jargon in their song titles, dividing the EP into acts and scenes. A concept EP about a play named Novella? The score for a book based on a play called Novella? Maybe I’m over-thinking it but there’s a slight whiff of pretentiousness about it all; trying to adhere to a preconceived concept not wholly reflected in their music which is more convincing than the theme.
Novella is a pretty good if slightly confusing EP. They’ve strayed just far enough away from the familiar, and attempting such an ambitious concept via the restrictive EP format takes guts. Given the runtime afforded by a full-length album their ideas could have been realised more convincingly. I feel like Novella is the second step from a band on an upward trajectory. With further refinement of their ideas, perhaps as a full length work, their third step could be compelling.