by Hugo Reyes
With the first hit of the snare drum and open guitar chord, Gouge Away’s newest release Burnt Sugar envelopes you. The listener has no choice but to yield to the songs. No break or lull is found. “Fed Up” drags you by your feet with an inviting bass line. Quickly, lead singer Christina Michelle exclaims to “keep the lights off in the middle of the afternoon.” You are now trapped in Gouge Away’s orbit until they decide to let you breathe.
Your only reprieve from the onslaught of hardcore is a few tracks like “Ghosts,” which give the feeling of sedation. The listener can do nothing but let out a big sigh of relief. They are now safe from the onslaught of rhythm and vocals that was raining down. “Ghosts” shows the musical progression of a second record. Michelle demonstrates a range of vocals. She is practically singing without any of the typical coarseness that is common in a hardcore singer. Then, in the second verse almost as a response, the typical vocals come roaring back in the usual vocal delivery. It is an unexpected development if you were a listener of the debut LP.
It would be a disservice to ignore the actual lyrical content on the record. Gouge Away’s debut record ,Dies touched on the topics of sexual assault, depression, politics, and much more. Michelle has talked openly about the effect of performing these songs night after night. “Talking about sexual assault or depression and making yourself talk about that night after night — does terrible things to your mental health.”
Burnt Sugar is a reconciliation of the art created on the debut release. Mental health is talked about in a frank and thoughtful manner. “Only Friend” talks openly about the voice in your head that constantly engages in negative self-talk. “Subtle Thrill” directly engages ideas about nothingness. There is a consistent imagery of letting the dark envelop you and the ever-continuing existential crisis that is depression as a young adult.
Everything coalesces for Gouge Away in Burnt Sugar. No instrument feels like it’s trying to be the “star” in the band. Each piece elevates the songs in an interesting way. The rhythm section consistently makes you throw your head back and forth. Guitars provide some pleasing leads in some songs. In others the guitar sits back and plays some simple power chords. Michelle’s vocals are catchy, menacing, and varied, rewarding multiple listens. Moreover, there is considerable growth that makes this record a genuinely exciting listen.