Gouge Away – Burnt Sugar

5 out of 5

Label: Deathwish

Produced by: Jeremy Bolm, Jack Shirley

Uh, wow. I jumped on the Gouge Away bandwagon after giving Burnt Sugar a listen, snatching up their previous album and then… kind of losing the fire. I’m an idiot when it comes to music, but obtaining a physical copy of their first release proved such a chore – bidding, watching used copies’ price fluctuations – that by the time I got around to it (and I was only able to do so when it was rereleased…), I had been listening to that album on repeat and sort of got sick of it, and felt that it was rather limited. The intensity that had wowed me felt like a crutch, and the lyrics’ focus on common causes (Authority sucks! Vegetarianism rules!) felt too youthy for my tastes. My copy of Burnt Sugar had arrived a long time prior but remained unlistened to since.

Listening to it now, I get to reexperience the wave of intensity and “I love this band now” feeling I had when I first previewed tracks off of it, and I’m reminded of my idiocy.

Things changed for the band between their albums. Vocalist Christina Michelle remains, but she expanded her shouty range significantly and became a much more engaging lyricist. Some roles appeared to rotate, with Mick Ford switching from drums to guitar and a new guitarist and drummer joining the ranks. There’s the addition of some keys, and some notable producers step in – Touche Amore’s Jeremy Bolm and hardcore mainstay Jack Shirley. Yeah, Gouge Away grew up.

Burnt Sugar’s sound is less thrashy than , Dies, coming closer to Punch / Super Unison, but maintaining the generally pummeling sensibility of Gouge’s approach, thanks to a killer rhythm section and Michelle’s intense, throat-shredding delivery. To the latter, though, she’s not just bleating her head off – she finds variations for her shout, and longer tracks like Ghost or Dissociation even allow the group to stretch out into moodier rock, while Bolm / Shirley make sure to keep the rawness of the production intact. Lyrically, Michelle has turned inward: most of these songs read as self-exploration, and she finds fascinating ways to crawl down those corridors.

Bands “maturing” their sound can be dangerous, lest they shed the things that drew you to them in the first place. For me, the sound Gouge Away matured in to on Burnt Sugar turned out to be what I wanted, and with the way it balances its intense punk rock with some post-rock flourish, promises great things. (As a bonus, now that I’ve listened to Burnt Sugar endlessly, , Dies, has started to sound pretty good again as well.)