Quietly steering a passage through some of rock’s faster-flowing tributaries, far from the sluggish mainstream, Cardiff’s Godsticks delivered a remarkable third album with last year’s Emergence.
Although the pointers were there on Spiral Vendetta and The Envisage Conundrum – chops, complexity, concision – it was the addition of heft and cliff-shearing riffs that nudged them closer to the centre of the heavy prog Venn diagram. Idiosyncratic above and beyond the word’s usual definition, they’re hard to get a handle on; not so much genre‑straddling as genre-stirring.
Tonight’s set opener Ruin is a good example to illustrate the point. Casually introduced by a skittery drumbeat and a quirky high-end guitar lick, frontman Darran Charles’ understated minor-key vocals have something of the Josh Homme/Layne Staley/Jerry Cantrell about them. There’s a nonchalance to the performance, as if picking up halfway through a set started somewhere else in time and space. A minute or so in, however, the heaviness is dialled up, detuned syncopated riffs are introduced and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it jazzy shred break makes a fleeting appearance before a surprisingly abrupt ending. The sheer number of ideas compressed into four minutes or so takes some concentration to absorb: these are the zip files of prog.
Atonal and discordant riffs married to occasionally uplifting passages are familiar themes. Much Sinister has a dash of Living Colour sprinkled over some Vai-isms, and standout Exit Stage Right nods to Devin Townsend and Meshuggah. An acoustic take on an early track – Traverse from Spiral Vendetta – is less successful. While pacing the set, it comes over a tad thin and one-dimensional in comparison. Charles’ voice has a sing-song cadence with a wide range and a rich natural vibrato that seemingly erupts at will, though the double tracked harmonies on the album are much missed live.
Set closer Lack Of Scrutiny distils the band’s strengths into a convoluted, dropped-beat, time-signature-eating monster, replete with sweeping fusion shred and ominous uplifts. “It’s harder to come up with memorable hooks than write in weird time signatures,” Charles once mused. It would appear Godsticks are eminently capable of both.