Monday, March 2, 2009

Gospel's The Moon is a Dead World

And around the corner tonight / My man, he's sleepin' out on the street
"Someone should go tell him it's cold outside" / I don't think he's listening

Hardcore and progressive rock/metal are somewhat justifiably misaligned: the former's modern incarnation delivering as much trite navel-gazing and homogenized sounds as it promises experimentation and refined introspection; the latter a pseudo-genre, frequently meant for bands, with little exception, to become as self-indulgent and aimless as they damn well please. (People are quick to point out Dream Theater, Opeth, Between the Buried and Me, Porcupine Tree and Tool as the representatives of this kind of nonsense, even though it stems back further to the egomania that led many British bands of the 70s not named Pink Floyd and King Crimson). These traits of excess trap artists into pandering to established niches while never carving one out on their own, with few exceptions -- Gospel being one of them.

However, the influences of The Moon is a Dead World are still clearly visible. Harsh vocals painting a portrait of depression and hardcore breakdowns are an integral part of the record. Aggressive riffs and a frantic keyboard are supported by bouncing basslines, all hung together by one of the greatest drummers outside of jazz. There are even subtle post-rock crescendos -- no tremolo picking here, though -- that have been popularized in screamo by the likes of City of Caterpillar, Daitro, Envy and Sed Non Satiata. Yet these are ultimately meaningless when truly trying to describe Gospel's distinctive sound.

The album alternates between psychedelia and hardcore, seamlessly flowing from one song to the next; even the seemingly abrupt anti-climax three minutes into "What Means of Witchery" subverts expectations and works as a smooth transition upon further listening. Longer tracks never overstay their welcome or venture into the realm of pretentiousness, such as "Golden Dawn" which ratchets up to a furious roar in its climax despite the near-constant vigor the band maintains throughout its nine minutes. "Opium," one of two instrumentals on the albums, would be a throwaway track of forgettable ambience that just sits there on any other progressive rock record, but manages to remain consistently engaging throughout. It serves as a bridge that allows the listener time for introspection before plunging back headfirst into the nightmarish sonic-scape the album creates, which is where the greatest appeal lies beyond the creativity and tight song-writing: the claustrophobic atmosphere.

Hey you, you got a cigarette man? You know, I know you got one on ya
I usually keep mine in the backseat / But it's buried behind all the rubble
You know after a few months / I figured all this shit would be easier
No wife, no kids, nothin', man / But my monkey sure is breathin'

The lyrics are refreshingly free of the aforementioned navel-gazing that plagues nearly all that is punk. Aligning themselves with the music, they are more comparable to a first-hand account of a dreamed up apocalypse: the narrator resigned to humanity's fate as his world crumbles around him. Yet as much potential melancholy this can create, there is a self-awareness to counterbalance because, above all else, Gospel just rocks the fuck out.

Sadly, Gospel would become a victim of an overarching trait that many screamo bands face: break-ups that come far too soon. Just before they went to the studio to record their second LP, they broke up. They left the world with only one 40-minute album (which, as I have recently searched, seems to be dwindling in availability) and an interesting 23-minute live track which presumably would have later surfaced as material on their next record. Given the time there is little doubt in my mind that Gospel could have become one of the most consistently original and greatest acts in modern music.

So let's hold this close / And we'll fall back to what's ours
I've got enough pills / To last us both a couple of hours
And we'll count our stars it won't come too soon

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