Far be it from us at Prog magazine to judge a record by its sleeve, but on the face of it, this Cardiff prog metal mob’s fourth album promises to be a distinctly cross affair. I mean, there’s that title for starters, then you scan the list of blunt, not hugely cheery-sounding songtitles: Avenge… Unforgivable… Angry Concern… We Are Leaving. Not before time, by the sound of it. But it won’t take more than a cursory listen to reveal that there’s a way wider spectrum of emotions at work here, and a broader palette of musical colours than their prog metal tag would suggest.
On Godsticks’ last long-player, 2015’s Emergence, they seemed in the mood to emphasise their heavier credentials, and you wondered if they’d rather hit hard than box clever. Now signed to Kscope, though, they’ve found a winning blend of channelled aggression and emotional depth, combining lyrical intelligence and instrumental fireworks. Maybe leader Darran Charles’ stint as part of The Pineapple Thief’s touring band has helped broaden their sound, because this certainly seems to be their most fully rounded album to date. In fact, when you pay proper attention to some of these 10 songs, the usual prog and hard rock influences often don’t apply.
Hard To Face has an alluringly despondent descending chord progression that sounds distinctly gothic in flavour, like Dead Can Dance struggling to rein in their frustration. There are also echoes of symphonic metal on Avenge as Charles sings mournfully of being ‘face down, lying on your gravestone’, a line you can fully imagine Tarja Turunen belting out. Then Open Your Eyes is built around a heavy riff groove, as if they’ve been listening to early-90s funk metal.
Meanwhile, for a band built on the visceral gut-punch of hard rock, Godsticks have a surprisingly strong grasp of the power of a good tune. Revere and We Are Leaving in particular are sublime examples of Charles’ talent for beautifully elegiac melodies, while Fame And Silence has distinct notes of emo angst shot through it.
But they still like to challenge themselves technically – Charles is one hell of a guitar player, and he can spray shredded notes and staccato riffs across any stylistic template. He’s not let down by his bandmates either, who manage to turn Everdrive’s impossibly obtuse time signature into a hypnotic Chili Peppers-style rumble.
Whether all those reference points are conscious is doubtful, but that’s no bad thing – it’s more likely the sign of a band reaching maturity, and building a sound that exceeds the sum of its parts.