REVIEW: GARGOYL – “Gargoyl”
Gargoyl, a collaborative project initiated by former tour mates Dave Davidson (Revocation) and Luke Roberts (Ayahuasca), is a truly enigmatic band. Their record label, Season of Mist, cites some diverse stylistic labels that have been thrown at the band (“progressive grunge rock”, “grunge meets black metal”, “Queens of the Stone Age meets Voivod”, and “a jazzier version of Alice in Chains”), but none of these attempts seem perfectly able to account for Gargoyl’s unique sound. Their self-titled debut is perhaps progressive in the truest sense of the word: not in style, but in ideology. After listening to the whole album, the four members of Gargoyl are really pushing themselves out of their comfort zones and into bold, new territory.
It is typical for a reviewer to find some points of reference or context to base their critical observations on, and an obvious starting point for those observations is influence. Gargoyl’s music has a lush landscape of influences to choose from, but there is one specific, low-hanging influence that is at the heart of many of my praises and criticisms: Alice in Chains. Neither Davidson nor Roberts are shy about bonding over, among many things, their love of the classic Seattle band. And, after listening to Gargoyl’s opening track, “Truth of a Tyrant”, it is clear that the comparison is not without merit. Vocalist Luke Roberts’ masterful vocal delivery and haunting harmonic arrangement on this beautiful acapella introduction is immediately nostalgic. One would be forgiven for jumping straight to snap judgements at this point, and, I agree, it’s hard not to. Obviously, no one has exclusive rights to vocal harmonies, but the similarities are there, and the accompanying preconceptions are always hard to see past. However, I think that for those brave souls that push through till the end, Luke Roberts infuses enough of himself into these eleven songs to shake off some of that baggage. And baggage or not, Roberts is good at what he does, but he is not the only member of Gargoyl.
In the guitar department, Dave Davidson is the yin to Roberts’ yang, balancing his more extreme metal pedigree in Revocation with other influences like grunge and jazz. Davidson is known as a very competent shredder in his other band, but, to my surprise, he does not overplay here. Minus a couple enjoyable solo spots in “Cursed Generation” and “Nightmare Conspiracy”, Davidson plies his trade in different ways. Raw, angular riffing and complex, dissonant chord voicings are used not to impress, but to set a mood. Add in the talents of bassist Brett Leier and drummer James Knoerl and the songs spring to life, writhing and pulsing under the dark mood set by Davidson. Songs like “Electrical Sickness” and “Plastic Nothing” are perfect examples of this brooding and propulsive style. “Cursed Generation” sounds like the spastic cousin of AIC’s “God Smack”, while “Ambivalent I” gallops along Barracuda-style underneath a wash of sinister arpeggiated chords. Even quieter moments such as “Wraith” or album-closer “Asphyxia” still hold interest with their hauntingly beautiful arrangements. Even the saxophone is used to great effect in the middle section of “Acid Crown” thanks to a guest appearance by multi-instrumentalist Erik Van Dam.
Everything on this album, from the stellar performances down to the punchy and dynamic production, is wonderfully executed, but I’m still left with a nagging ache in my heart after it’s all over. As I often feel at times listening to other progressive/avant-garde acts like Gargoyl, though I love the strange and unorthodox ideas that flow from their collective minds, I still want a little release from the chaos. In Gargoyl’s case, the tension that comes from either the instruments or the vocals, and sometimes both, is powerful and even beautiful, but how much more powerful and beautiful could they be if that tension were released? Sometimes it’s okay to let something resolve naturally and breathe a little before diving back down underneath the murky waters of tension and dissonance. There is a delicate balance to these things, and I can only hope that Gargoyl strive to achieve that balance on future releases. They are so close, though, and it is only their debut, after all.
Gargoyl’s self-titled release is a bizarre and cacophonous ballroom dance of odd chord voicing and spooky melodies that is surprisingly beautiful and cohesive, even when it is making the ugliest of faces as it sweeps you violently across the dance floor. Despite being slightly bogged down by their influences at times, this a great band with great players, and talent to spare. This is a dance I would gladly do again, well, at least after I get these shoes off and soak my feet for a while.