Gouge Away- Deep Sage (Album Review)

March 14, 2024


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Over the past five years or so, there has been a number of bands that started off in the hardcore and punk spaces pivoting towards alternative rock, post punk, and everything in between.  This fusion of aggressive and melancholic has created some interesting fusions, and one could argue that Gouge Away was heading towards this mixture earlier than many of their peers.  The group’s sophomore effort Burnt Sugar showcased just as much fuzzy and inward focused 90s alternative rock as it did raging hardcore, and while it had some rough edges there was plenty to connect with.  Like a lot of bands, Gouge Away’s plans were severely impacted due to the pandemic and they even went on a bit of a hiatus, keeping them out of the spotlight as many others re-emerged.  But six years after their last full length, the group has returned with Deep Sage and expanded upon every aspect of the foundation laid down by Burnt Sugar.  The mellower sections have a bit more variation, and the aggressive outbursts are even more jarring.  It may have a few minor missteps along the way, but this is still a strong and confident showing from an act that has unique qualities within their genre.

As if to remind listeners that they’re still very much a hardcore punk band and haven’t gone completely over to rock, opener “Stuck In A Dream” is an explosive way to start off the album as it emphasizes booming drums and noisier guitar and bass work that fall somewhere between punk and noise rock.  It’s a simple yet effective track that is reminiscent of the brevity and raw energy of some of Gouge Away’s earlier works, but this gives way to the catchier melodies that make up “Maybe Blue”.  There is still plenty of angular guitar and some slightly sharper edges, but the core of the song is driven forward by prominent bass grooves and a brighter sound that reminds me of a cross between a number of 90’s alternative rock and The Stooges.  Like Burnt Sugar, Deep Sage has this regular push and pull when it comes to their abrasive and softer side, and some of the best moments come when they combine this into the course of a single song.  “Idealized” is one of the most striking numbers on the album for this reason, as it has a chaotic opening that gives way to a much more laid back and almost shoegaze leaning guitar lead.  But as the guitar seems to stretch outwards lazily, bursts of noise and feedback hit you without warning, injecting some noise rock and even no-wave into the mix.  A lot of these little details stand out upon repeat listen, giving more depth to what seems like otherwise simple rock or punk songs on the surface, and this continues to work to Gouge Away’s advantage.  Other highlights include the sprawling and dreary “A Welcome Change” and the sheer scorching power of “The Sharpening”, but the material does have plenty to offer from beginning to end.  Admittedly a few of the shorter numbers felt a bit similar over repeat listens and the combination of “Newtau” and “Dallas” made the end drag a bit for me.  “Newtau” does have some louder bursts, but “Dallas” leans fully into fuzzier grunge and shoegaze territory and ends things on a little too soft a note for my preferences. 

Christina Michelle’s vocals played a large part in what made Burnt Sugar stand out so much for me, as her screams and yells had so much power behind them that they felt like they could knock down walls.  Yet there was a fragility to the performance as well when things switched over to the singing, and both sides of the spectrum have been expanded on for this effort.  The rougher edged moments cut through the recording like a knife, but despite the harshness they don’t overwhelm the instrumentation and Gouge Away keeps things well balanced.  Songs like “A Welcome Change” and “Dallas” pivot over to more rock type singing, where the pitch becomes softer and gives off a reflective and introspective tone.  A few of these sections still sound a little rough around the edges, but I can appreciate that Gouge Away left them in to show the emotion rather than cleaning things up too much.

A few of the shorter songs run together and it feels like “Newtau” and “Dallas” may have been more effective if arranged elsewhere on the album, rather than finishing things off back to back.  But even with this being the case, Gouge Away has naturally built upon both their abrasive and softest elements and written material that has plenty of stand-out moments.  Despite the number of bands pulling in shoegaze, grunge, and alternative rock into punk, Gouge Away is able to stand out.  Deep Sage is available from Deathwish Inc.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg