Review & Track Premiere: Gozu, Equilibrium

gozu equilibrium

[Click play above to stream Gozu’s ‘Manimal.’ Equilibrium is out April 13 on Blacklight Media and available to preorder here.]

No doubt that for many who take it on, Gozu‘s Equilibrium will be their first exposure to the band. Fair enough. The Boston four-piece are a decade removed from their debut self-titled demo, and depending on how one counts that release, the latest is either their fourth or fifth full-length. What matters more than how one accounts for it, however, is that Equilibrium represents the fruit of 10 years’ worth of upward and outward trajectory both in creativity and profile. That is, Gozu — the lineup of guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney, guitarist/backing vocalist Doug Sherman, bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard (ex-Warhorse) — have never ceased to get either bigger or better from one offering to the next.

In 2016, they brought their game to a new level of clarity and aggression with Revival (review here), and looking back, one can only say that album built on 2013’s Small Stone-released The Fury of a Patient Man (review here) the same way that record built on 2010’s Locust Season (review here). Still, if Equilibrium — which finds issue through Metal Blade imprint Blacklight Media — is one’s first exposure to the band, there’s nothing to stop the process of getting on board. Their songs are melodic, varied, heavy, presented with a decade-built clarity of purpose and unmistakably their own. Its title evoking a sense of balance, Equilibrium‘s eight tracks and 49 minutes show a group of diverse but not conflicting intent and expert songcraft. Positioned at the forefront of an always-well-populated Boston underground, they have only ever taken forward steps, and this latest of them resonates from beginning to end.

By returning to Wild Arctic Studio in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to work with producer Dean Baltulonis (HatebreedFreya, many others), they bring some sense of continuity from Revival in terms of tone, but hearing moments of flourish like the choral vocals on “Prison Elbows” or the progressive interweaving of guitar on “The People vs. Mr. T.,” they seem to be more comfortable in that setting the second time around and freer to expand arrangements vocal and instrumental. Another example of balance throughout Equilibrium, however, is that of live energy and studio polish. One wouldn’t necessarily expect Gozu to break out the spacious 11-minute closer “Ballad of ODB,” with its patient, ambient opening and pervasive atmospherics, on stage, but the showing of soul in Gaffney‘s vocals is inimitable and unquestionably his own, and even in the opening salvo of “Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat” and the aforementioned “The People vs. Mr. T.,” there’s a vitality that leads one to believe at least some of the basic tracks were captured live.

This, in addition to Hubbard‘s right-on-the-front-of-the-beat drumming style, makes the more uptempo material on Equilibrium soar, and as Sherman shreds out a forward-mixed solo in the second half of “Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat,” the question of what the band would do after their Revival is immediately answered in their living to the fullest. “King Cobra” calls to mind the best of classic grunge in its verse before turning through a more aggro mini-chorus and finally unveiling its actual hook, which is a standout companioned by that of the deeply-weighted “Manimal,” which holds to a slower pace but maintains its sense of roll and flows easily with its surroundings, picking up somewhat in its second half around a chug given all the more force by Grotto‘s bassline as Gaffney takes to falsetto during the fadeout. This would be a natural ending for side A — it may in fact be; I don’t know the vinyl breakdown — and it leads to the shortest inclusion on Equilibrium, “They Probably Know Karate.”

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If indeed “They Probably Know Karate” is the start of side B, it would make sense for the uptick of energy it provides coming out of “Manimal” before it, which is more about impact than thrust. Some spoken backing vocals late provide a bit of curious detail late, but “They Probably Know Karate” is very much Gozu being Gozu, and again, if you’ve never heard them before, what that means is a blend of choice songwriting, rich melody, heavy rock groove and underlying metallurgy. They deliver with efficiency on the 4:17 cut, which is the shortest on Equilibrium, and move forward into the five-minute “Prison Elbows” without looking back or losing any of the momentum they’ve so quickly established. At about two minutes in, “Prison Elbows” cuts to a slower groove to set the stage for Sherman‘s solo, but the build that ensues after — a cymbal crash from Hubbard, a swirl of guitar effects over the sustained riff, the low end grounding the whole affair and keeping it from flying apart — is perhaps even more satisfying.

Teasing the psychedelia to come in the intro to “Ballad of ODB,” it nonetheless finishes in a quick return to ground before the penultimate “Stacy Keach” takes hold with further crunching riffery that opens into a broader verse that’s a vocal highlight from Gaffney ahead of the finish, shifting into a more aggressive riff in its midsection and playing back and forth throughout the second half between the verse/chorus and that meaner chug, on which it ends cold. The soft guitar, echoing ambience and distant drumming that opens “Ballad of ODB” is an immediate departure from “Stacy Keach,” and its soothing and hypnotic three and a half minutes offer a breather after the all the careening and turning that’s come before. A heavier, slower movement ensues, making “Manimal” a hindsight foreshadow, and layers of vocals retain an otherworldly atmosphere. Gozu have never been a psychedelic band, and Grotto‘s rumble underscoring “Ballad of ODB” is nothing if not grounded, but those elements are there, and they help in the final expansion of mood that the closer represents, the chorus flowing into a last, extended solo, and back to the chorus and a short wash of guitar noise to end out.

For fans of the band — I consider myself one — and those who’ve followed them for some portion of the last 10 years, Equilibrium should stand undeniably as the most exacting representation of who Gozu is as a band to-date. Their sound is fully their own and they are in full command of it. Their songwriting is natural and the performances here from all four players together only demonstrates how much the lineup has clicked after touring in the US and Europe to support Revival. These same factors are exactly what also makes Equilibrium such a viable point of entry for new listeners. There is nothing redundant about Equilibrium, and the sense of balance that pervades doesn’t come at the cost of vitality; Gozu sound exciting, fresh, and like one of the most individualized bands in American heavy rock — which, of course, is exactly what they’ve become.

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3 Responses to “Review & Track Premiere: Gozu, Equilibrium

  1. paul says:

    Dude – that’s a killer review! i’m on the edge of my seat waiting to hear the album now!

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