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Gozu: The Fury of a Patient Man

Reviewed By: Adrian Janes
Label: Small Stone
Format: CD

The title of this Boston band’s second album is well-chosen: it’s fuelled by intense emotional and physical power, yet the musicians maintain a tight self-control that typifies the slickest hard rock.

Comparisons with Queens of the Stone Age are not original but impossible to avoid, if only because like QOTSA Gozu maintain a good melodic sense (in Marc Gaffney’s vocals and Doug Sharman’s guitarwork), even as they rock with a visceral strength. Besides Sharman and a variety of bassists, this blend is founded on Barry Spillberg’s drumming, which ranges from nimble beats to merciless pummelling. It typifies songs like the opening trio of ‘Bald Bull’, ‘Signed, Epstein’s Mom’and ‘Charles Bronson Pinchot’. The last of these is at once one of the fastest and one of the heaviest numbers on the album, with guitar ringing out behind the vocals before a slower passage opens out into epically resonating chords and a crazed sprint to the end.

The attentive reader will notice that there is a penchant for wacky titles, recalling early Blue Oyster Cult (another band that rocked without losing sight of melody). ‘Irish Dart Fight’ is another example, perhaps some strange allusion to one of the main ethnic groups in their home city although the lyrics, as so often on this album, seem born from a state of emotional distress which Gaffney conveys well.

A direct riff and handclaps propel the verses of ‘Salty Thumb’, recalling Iggy Pop’s ‘New Values’. It is hard to resist nodding along approvingly. Sharman garlands the basic song with astute guitar flourishes.

The title of “Disco Related Injury” is its most intriguing aspect, though the use of intertwined guitars is also distinctive. It’s heavy in a fairly orthodox manner, its largely slow pace only intermittently increased by outbreaks of thunderous drums.

‘Traci Lords’ is founded on a strong, rising riff. Heartfelt vocals deliver some enigmatic lyrics: “Don’t wait up for me/You’re already dead/Time won’t stay with you/It left with me instead.” Whether the song is meant to speak for the actress in some way, or has nothing to do with her at all (given the lack of obvious connection between titles and lyrics in the other tracks, this is quite possible), Gaffney’s voice and the gradual collapse of Sharman’s guitar into stuttering, incoherent noise powerfully suggest emotional disarray.

Gaffney’s distorted vocal begins at a higher register on ‘Ghost Wipe’, underpinned by chugging guitar and tom-tom bursts. The bulk of the song soon settles into a more standard kind of heavy groove, though this time lightened by expressive backing vocals. It is followed by ‘Snake Plissken’ (named after Kurt Russell’s character in two John Carpenter films), a fast rocker which once again demonstrates the band’s incredible tightness. A certain Josh Homme-toned sadness is detectable in his voice towards the end as Gaffney says over and over “I don’t need you”, then gradually overcome by mounting rage and a final scream.

This leaves ‘The Ceaseless Thunder of Surf’. Starting slow but strong, with especially fiery guitar, it would have capped the album nicely if it had stayed within the 4-5 minute limit of most of the other songs. Regrettably the band choose not to stop there but instead carry on for a further 20 minutes in a meandering jam based mainly around a droning two-note riff. Whatever the explanation for this lapse in judgement, it shouldn’t detract from the fact that this is a fine rock album, powerful and musical in its playing and songcraft. That they are not the most original of bands (I’d also add Foo Fighters and Faith No More to QOTSA as among those I hear echoed) is not the most important consideration given the quality of their playing and most of the songs. Gozu might be a musical reinvention of the wheel in some ways, but they do it very well. Let’s roll.

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