In some ways, Gozu‘s Revival is defined by its barnburners. There are a few of them, and the impression they create across the Boston four-piece’s third album — first for Ripple Music — is one of a more intense approach overall than was showed either on 2013’s The Fury of a Patient Man (review here) or 2010’s Locust Season (review here). Those records, both released by Small Stone, had their driving moments, but to listen to “Nature Boy,” “Oldie” or the penultimate “DD McCall” from Revival is to realize how much harder Gozu are pushing themselves across the album as a whole.
The production of Dean Baltulonis at The Wild Arctic and Benny Grotto at Mad Oak brings that out even in a swinging track like “Big Casino” or the soul-fueled “By Mennen.” It’s not necessarily about tonal thickness — that’s not what they’re going for — so much as what kind of impact each instrument can have. Add to this the fact that for the first time on record, Gozu have a cohesive lineup in guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney, guitarist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto (brother to the aforementioned Benny) and drummer Mike Hubbard, and it becomes less of a wonder that these eight songs/41 minutes are the strongest the band has yet presented in their tenure. As Gozu enter relative maturity as a group — three LPs deep — they show clear growth in performance, craft and chemistry, while keeping many of elements of the prior work intact that helped push them to the fore of their home region’s crowded heavy rock sphere. To rephrase: They kick ass early and often.
I’ll note at this point that I’m hardly an impartial observer, having been a fan since Locust Season and grown to think of them as friends, but feel no compunction in offering critique, whether it’s of Gaffney‘s vocals dominating the mix in the crashing apex of “By Mennen” (as opposed to the end of it, where the vocals stand alone and would inherently dominate the mix, being the only thing in it), or of the continued use of gag/reference song titles. “Lorenzo Llamas” is clever, but hardly does justice to the spaciousness of the side A closer itself or the manner in which it complements and sets up “Tin Chicken” as the album’s finale. In any case, if you want to take my continued respect for Gozu‘s work with a grain of salt, feel free, but Revival also stands legitimately on its own as their finest hour to date. Whether it’s the blistering, immediate zero-to-100 that “Nature Boy” brings to lead off or the sleeker groove of “Bubble Time” that follows, there isn’t a level on which Gozu aren’t moving beyond what they’ve done before.
Grotto, who played on part of The Fury of a Patient Man, and Hubbard, formerly of Warhorse, make for a rhythm section formidable enough to stand up to the melodies and layering in Gaffney‘s vocals and the crunch in his and Sherman‘s guitars alike, and though the attack here is more pointed than it has been in the past, that suits Gozu remarkably well as they lend each song a personality of its own while uniting the work as a whole through hooks, harmonies and a sense of abandon like that shown in the layered soloing that pushes “Bubble Time” over the top at the end. That song and “Nature Boy” before it build momentum into the more shuffling “Big Casino,” which rides a hypnotic chugging riff — something of a miniaturization of “The Ceaseless Thunder of Surf” from the last outing — in its middle and after one more chorus trips out a bit with far-back falsetto from Gaffney and consistent punctuation from Hubbard as it fades into the crashes that begin “Lorenzo Llamas,” which builds across its seven-minute span with semi-psychedelic patience as a vocal highlight, subtly insistent riff and fluid groove add to the otherworldly feel the ending of “Big Casino” put forth. Through soloing from Sherman, interplay of the two guitars, and more forceful delivery from Gaffney, “Lorenzo Llamas” gives a fitting cap to Revival‘s first half and sets up the continued expansion of reach that follows in the second.
That expansion comes in hand with a feeling that each of side B’s tracks is in conversation with a counterpart on side A, reversing the first three songs and aligning for the longer fourth so that “Oldie” opens with a chug and hook that could be playing off the sway of “Big Casino,” “By Mennen” answers the soul of “Bubble Time” with swaggering, heavy funk — the early bassline is a highlight — and “DD McCall” follows up on the all-out thrash style with which “Nature Boy” lead off, leaving “Tin Chicken” to build on what “Lorenzo Llamas” accomplished. One doubts that kind of symmetry was something that came to mind for Gozu as they were writing — it’s not like they’re making a concept record — but it does give Revival‘s presentation another level of cohesiveness, and whether it’s the fading-out guitar harmonies of “Oldie” or Gaffney pushing his voice to its limits in that standalone part at the end of “By Mennen,” Gozu manage to add to what they did earlier without sonic redundancy.
This is true in the heads-down thrust of “DD McCall” as well as the immediate contrast that “Tin Chicken” brings with its quiet, fluid guitars, subdued drums and soft vocals. The closer pushes through a louder part and quiets again momentarily before launching into the atmospheric payoff that “Lorenzo Llamas” teased, still heavy but swirling as well before cutting back to fade out after a few quiet lines bringing it back to the intro; the song seems to kind of wander off, but it works with the trance-inducing effects display preceding. And as it goes back to its start in a different way, “Tin Chicken” also summarizes some of what works best about Revival, which is the sense of how purposefully built the album is. While the performances are crisp, the natural chemistry Gozu have harnessed onstage remains intact, and the intensity with which they bring it to bear feels like something the band has been waiting for the opportunity to do. They make the most of that opportunity, and what results is some of the best American heavy rock you’re likely to hear in 2016 in composition and execution.