Gozu, The Fury of a Patient Man: Bringing Bald Bull to an Irish Dart Fight

When Boston rockers Gozu made their debut in 2010 with Locust Season, the album was greeted with no shortage of hyperbole within the heavy rock set. Their strong sense of songwriting, ballsy riffing, diversity of approach and penchant for melody made the four-piece an immediate standout among a crowded scene, and they came out of the gate with the professionalism of a band putting out their third album, not their first. Locust Season (review here), however, was a first album, and so it’s not necessarily surprising to find that on the sophomore outing, The Fury of a Patient Man (Small Stone), Gozu seem to have undergone some shifts in sound in the three years since their last time out. The above-listed elements, thankfully, remain consistent, and if you were someone who heard and upon whom the debut made an impression, there will be little doubt when you put on The Fury of a Patient Man that you’re listening to Gozu. Guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney has the same soulful sensibility in his voice, a little melancholy but still able to keep pace with fellow six-stringer Doug Sherman’s riffing (bass duties are split throughout by Jay Canava and Paul Delair; Joe Grotto has since joined as a permanent bassist), and Barry Spillberg’s drums are likewise at home punctuating movements either stomping, as on “Disco Related Injury” or rife with a more furious galloping, as on “Charles Bronson Pinchot.” Gozu’s penchant for joke and/or referential song titles – another piece of the puzzle returned from the first album – winds up undercutting some (not all) of the emotionality on display throughout, as on the later “Ghost Wipe” and “Traci Lords” or even opener “Bald Bull,” but the 10 component tracks on the 62-minute album nonetheless convey a range of moods, from the earlier more rocking swagger of “Signed, Epstein’s Mom” (sorry boys, on the show it was “Signed, Epstein’s Mother”) to the echoing largesse of 24-minute closer “The Ceaseless Thunder of Surf,” and no matter what heading they’re given, the songs do a lot of speaking for themselves. I’m not sure if the tradeoff of grabbing attention with a clever play on names like “Charles Bronson Pinchot” is worth the distraction from the contents of the track, but it’s moot. They are what they are, and what matters most from the point of launch is the strength of the material.

In that department, Gozu deliver a record to justify the three-year wait since the debut. However seriously they may or may not wish to present the superficial trappings of their band-dom, Gozu are no joke. Their arrangements are rich and complex without being pretentious, and immediately from the deft switches to and from falsetto in the verse of “Bald Bull,” Gaffney leads the charge through material that shows just how much growth the band has undertaken. “Bald Bull” and “Signed, Epstein’s Mom” make a strong opening duo and effective summary of Gozu’s approach on the album – both three and a half minutes long, perfect for hard rock radio in some alternate universe – balancing soulful layering and harmonies against top quality stonerly riffing and driving heavy groove. There is just the slightest undertone of metal, and certainly “Charles Bronson Pinchot” ups that with a High on Fire-type riff that Spillberg meets with thrashy aplomb, nestling into the quickened chug clearly in his element and winding up no less at home in the increasingly dreamy midsection of the song as it develops with airier guitars and a slow build. It’s a switch from the more grooving heavy rock of the first two tracks, but that’s clearly the idea. Gozu are shifting the expectation of their audience – putting listeners where they want them – and in terms of the album as a whole, it’s the right move. Because the material is still basically accessible and “Charles Bronson Pinchot” catchy and not out of line vocally with what Gaffney brings to either “Bald Bull” or “Signed, Epstein’s Mom,” the listener is more apt to go along with the change, and likewise as “Charles Bronson Pinchot” gives way to the quirky verse of “Irish Dart Fight,” more alike to some of earlier Queens of the Stone Age’s start-stop progressions, but given different context by the vocals and the fuller payoff in the chorus. Sherman and Gaffney don’t spend much time playing off each other on guitar, but the solo in the second half of “Irish Dart Fight” sounds all the more accomplished for the backing rhythm, and it seems that altogether Gozu are tighter as a unit in terms of their performance than they were three years ago. Progress has been made.

The fuzzy shuffle of “Salty Thumb” is well set alongside “Irish Dart Fight” for expanding on some of the same musical ideas, a QOTSA-style verse giving way to a satisfying chorus, meeting with handclaps along the way. At halfway, Gozu’s classic pop and soul influence shows up, with a break of “Soul sister/Sweet soul sister” that leads back to the verse with a bit of party atmosphere. It shows up again a short time later – almost a second chorus – with well-arranged singing and a subtle build playing out from Spillberg on drums until the fadeout that leads to the jarring opening of the heavier, larger-sounding “Disco Related Injury.” They’re still well within a range of fuzz here – captured and mixed in the Small Stone tradition by Benny Grotto – just louder, with an initial verse riff that follows a classic stoner rock pattern of two hits – thud thud – and then the riff – dada da da da. “Disco Related Injury” gives up nothing of The Fury of a Patient Man’s individual feel for its familiarity, however, with one of the album’s most infectious hooks in its chorus and an all-around flow that sets the tone for the rest of the second half of the record to follow. Gozu have yet to shy away from a little pop emotion – it’s something else they seem to derive from classic soul – and “Disco Related Injury” marks the point when that begins to really surface, only to be further developed on album-highlight “Traci Lords,” which along with the best bassline of the album also features one of the best vocals from Gaffney and a memorable sing-along hook to match the melody in the guitar line. I don’t know if the track is actually about Traci Lords or not – I doubt it – but it moves into pairs of hits that lead back into the verse and finds Sherman and Gaffney working at an effective arrangement of the riff, cycling back through the hits that come apart into noise as the last minute plays out, feedback and amp noise finally taking hold to end the song. This is a quick glimpse of things to come on “The Ceaseless Thunder of Surf,” but first “Ghost Wipe” (look it up) grounds the listener with a drum thump and following progression to keep the momentum moving as the build of the verse finds its payoff in the transition from the weightier bridge into the melody of the chorus, which they’re rightly quick to revive once its initial run is over. The line “the loudness of a broken heart” is a standout much as the track as a whole is, and “Snake Plissken” seems like it’s repeating ideas already presented until the rush of the verse leads to a quick but still catchy chorus line.

At that point, the forward thrust of The Fury of a Patient Man – in terms of pacing but not necessarily emotional drive – has hit its apex, as “Snake Plissken” does make some of the same turns Gozu have already rounded on the songs preceding, but basically does it faster. It’s not close to being as memorable as “Traci Lords” or “Ghost Wipe,” but really what’s overwhelming it is the closer, which, since it clocks in at 23:57, was pretty much unavoidable anyway. Gaffney’s vocals echo in layers atop chunky, ‘90s noise-style start-stop riffing, moving naturally into and out of a brief chorus in a quickly established groove. In the first 90 seconds, they seem to have played their hand in full, but at the two-minute mark, a new progression emerges that comes to consume the next 22 minutes in various forms. There’s a verse over it to start with, but at 3:11, they stop and launch all-out into the sprawl that will close the album, repeating that riff over and over and taking it really as far as it can go, deconstructing it down to its basic parts to let it play out quietly over Spillberg’s diligent drums, only to unleash it again as the rhythmic bed for a squibbly, echoing solo, which in turn moves into another quiet space of cymbal washes and sleepy presentation, more hits (some double-kick) and an emergent groove effective but short-lived, shifting to backwards guitar psychedelics and a jammier feel. That rhythm line is never quite fully gone, though, and they use the full 24 minutes, as the drums weave in and out of beats and the guitars move here and there around the central figure, settling here, settling there, but never staying in one spot too long. At about 21:30, Spillberg announces a more active movement with his crash and they revive the proceedings for a last runthrough that will soon enough devolve into noise not unlike that capping “Traci Lords” that will end the final minute and a half. Likely by then you’ve either skipped back to the start of the album or become so hypnotized by the riff that it’s startling when the final hit rings out – they don’t leave much room between the one or the other. Still, “The Ceaseless Thunder of Surf” is one last show of Gozu’s evolution to this point; how far they’ve come and how far anyone has come who’s traveled along with the for the course of that track. It’s hard to know what the impact of The Fury of a Patient Man will be – early response is positive and rightly so – but Gozu make a sound argument for inclusion at the fore of current US heavy rock, and the blend they presented already as their own on Locust Season has only grown more so. I hope it’s not three years before the next one, but if it is, the band have established they can make that stretch worthwhile. If there’s anything they prove to know a thing or two about with The Fury of a Patient Man, it’s payoff. Also classic tv. Either way, nothing holds The Fury back from being an early 2013 highlight. Recommended.

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