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Gargoyl - Gargoyl [Season Of Mists - 2020]

Gargoyl is the new project of metal musicians Luke Roberts (of the band Ayahuasca) and Dave Davidson (of technical death metal band Revocation), a stylistic shift which retains the technical guitar work of their previous bands, but moves away from screams and blast beats for a midtempo progressive sound, with lightly overdriven guitar tones.

This album is being spun in press releases as 'grunge'.  I would not categorize this album as such, though I can hear the influence.  It's closer to the esoteric angular prog of Haken, with the sickly dark irony of Mike Patton circa Angel Dust, and a touch of his melodic style as well.  The grungiest thing about the album are the Layne Staley / Jerry Cantrell inspired harmony vocals, which are consistent through most of the music.  We do get some chugging Alice in Chains / Soundgarden style groove metal riffs on occasion as well, but most of the music is far denser and more elaborate than any grunge band dreamed.

The world weary crooning vocals do a lot to make this experiment feel completely natural.  The lyrics blend in quite comfortably, and never stick out as cheesy or forced.  It's also not immediately clear what any of the material is about beyond its anxious, melancholy tone, and so the experience remains an abstract one.  The music at times reaches a formidable, cascading post rock heaviness, but the vocalists never allow their voices to break into harshness, instead issuing a sort of restrained warning.  I hear echoes of Mushroomhead's "Jeffrey Nothing", and of Devin Townsend, in the inflections of their delivery, with a lot of the latter's dark operatic feel coming through in tracks such as "Ophidian" and "Waltz Dystopia".

I applaud the attempt at a sort of haunted, uneasy progressive rock that strays far from the predictably triumphant refrains of Dream Theater.  The style of composition here is a great deal more non-linear.   It highlights the many unexplored horizons of technical music beyond the typical idioms.  The songs are not particularly lengthy, at an average of 4-6 minutes, and don't typically feature climaxes or build ups in the typical sense, instead blending together smoothly into the full experience of the album.

The guitar playing is a lot of arpeggiated dissonant chords, circling and spiralling through dense, often clashing tone clusters with a sense of forboding.  Rather than grunge, much of this is more comparable to bands like Gorguts or chaotic post-hardcore like Ephel Duath.  Though the chords are ugly and strange, it remains repetitious and logical enough to comfortably sing over, allowing the listener a moment to absorb each strange chord before moving to the next.  The discordant language becomes its own legible melancholic realm through its careful usage.

I've never heard Luke Roberts' home project Ayahuasca, but I can say confidently that this self titled album by Gargoyl is a great deal fresher and more vital than the catalogue of Dave Davidson's main band Revocation, a band with great technical chops to be sure, and some great guitar work on occasion, but never quite enough creative spark to break the mold, relying on shout-along choruses and typical metal imagery.

I would wholeheartedly recommend Gargoyl's self titled album, especially to fans of Haken, Devin Townsend, older dark prog rock such as King Crimson, or the desert twang of Mike Patton's more recent records like Faith No More's Sol Invictus and Tomahawk's Oddfellows.  There's a huge amount of creativity, moody expression and food for thought to be found here.

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

Josh Landry
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