Florida’s Gouge Away made some ripples with their earth-shattering debut ‘, Dies’ back in 2016, but the blunt assault on the aforementioned album has been traded for a more subtle thrill on its sophomore follow-up, ‘Burnt Sugar’.
You may think that they’re already sacrificing their roots based on the above paragraph, but fear not. The short, white-hot ragers are still here. There’s more inspiration taken from 90s alternative rock, with plenty of Jesus Lizard and Fugazi influenced sections, but they’ve successfully merged this with their hardcore roots.
‘Only Friend’ is noticeably grunge sounding, but maintains the band’s signature mood of discomfort. On this song, and indeed many others, vocalist Christina Michelle is the star of the show. There’s an aspect to her vocals that’s ferocious yet vulnerable at the same time, especially in the coda of ‘Fed Up’.
‘A Subtle Thrill’ is a very smart move in the way that it goes from punk rock fury to a mid-tempo section at the drop of a hat, but without losing its intensity. A tense middle section that slowly builds into an explosive chant of “Hurt is a commodity” is a sign that you can be intense and heavy without playing at a million miles per hour.
If you want to praise one particular track that stands out, it’s ‘Ghost’. A pummelling bass line accompanies a somewhat timid nature in the more cleaner vocals in the verse before the song erupts into an almighty beast.
The vocal delivery that seems like a stream of consciousness pays off extremely well for ‘Dissociation’, which is another rager. You want to unwind and let loose at times with the alternative rock-tinged moments, with songs like ‘Stray/Burnt Sugar’. They’ve got a solid grasp of light and shade, especially in an early stage of their career.
For closer ‘Raw Blood’, you’re left thinking it meanders aimlessly a little bit at times, and you could benefit from the vocals being way more audible. But, aside from this, co-producer Jeremy Bolm (of Touché Amoré fame) and Jack Shirley have done a great job. Shirley can add this to the many times he’s captured deep in catharsis, yet pushing artistic boundaries at the same time.
Gouge Away feel very much like a more underground proposition still, but ‘Burnt Sugar’ is showing many signs of them spreading their wings. With a bit of good fortune, the whole world should be listening.