Gouge Away – ‘Deep Sage’

By Dave Stewart

If you’re connected to music in any way, either a performer, behind the scenes industry member or just a devoted fan, the pandemic sucked. The world completely stopped, recording processes were halted, touring plans dissolved, any hype or trajectory plateaued. For the fans, it was a frustratingly long waiting game, sat twiddling our thumbs waiting for a slither of hope. For the artists, it was excruciating, especially those that had a wealth of inspiration and aspiration ripped from them. Gouge Away is one of those artists, and ‘Deep Sage’ is their third long awaited record that very nearly never saw the light of day.

After almost completely ceasing to be a band and never finishing the record, 2022 saw them reconnect and fall back in love with songwriting, and their time apart allowed new traits to appear in their DNA. Melodically and musically, they’re richer than ever, and texturally they’ve never sounded so rabid. The opening track of the album, ‘Stuck In A Dream’, wonderfully captures this while recreating the monotony of life that we all found ourselves living. The repetitive lyrical refrain and its frustrated droning delivery, the dark, raw guitars and that eardrum shattering snare summon feelings of unnerve and urgency, and it kickstarts the bubbling of adrenaline that the rest of the record intensifies.

If you don’t already have your dancing shoes on, you will soon. The jangly riffs in ‘Maybe Blue’ are both irresistible and abrasive, littered with hooks and the occasional dissonant note to balance the catchy with the uncomfortable. ‘The Sharpening’ is like the musical version of a hornets nest, bursting chaotic aggression and deep buzzing bass to set all your nerve endings on fire. The pit-hungry explosion of ‘No Release’ is powerful enough to vacuum even the most cautious gig goer into the eye of its storm. The riot-ready parts are all capable of making your blood fizz, but this album is so much more than that.

One of the things that makes ‘Deep Sage’ so great is its range. There are a lot of pace changes, but none feel out of place or forced. The short but sweet sonic jolt of ‘Spaced Out’, the dense fog that ripples through ‘Overwatering’, the dramatic and dynamic ‘Newtau’, the hypnotic tension ebbing and flowing in the title track; the variety on offer boldly shows how much they’ve grown over the last few years.

Closing out the record with the soul-stirring ‘Dallas’ is a real master stroke, bringing things to a close in a really beautiful way. Written not about the city but because of the city, a soundcheck jam bringing it to life, the track discusses the perils of staring at rock bottom and the struggle of finding a way out of it. It’s a very personal song to vocalist Christina Michelle who vividly conveys the pain in knowingly hurting people close to her, but it also serves as a blanket that can be used to cover the entire record. This album almost never happened, the band was almost put to rest, but they turned everything around and made a career best. The struggle is always worth enduring.

Punk and hardcore has never felt more exciting than it does right now, and Gouge Away have proven with this record that they’re a big contributor to that hype. ‘Deep Sage’ is intense, delicate, gritty, impassioned and so much more. It really just feels like five people jamming together, enjoying being with one another, and it’s refreshing. You can feel their connection, one strengthened by rediscovering what they almost lost, and that honesty radiates from the record in the most warm and fuzzy way. This album is brilliant. Listen to it.

DAVE STEWART

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