Claiming a band to be 'progressive,' is quite a loaded label as the term's broad connotation could encompass almost infinite possibilities. Striving off a unique blend of hard rock and classic prog, Godsticks stake out their spot in the spectrum as a force more remarkable than your average Rush rip-off. With two albums in their past, this UK-based group proves the 'third times the charm' phrase to be quite true.
Featuring frontman Darran Charles, bassist Dan Nelson, and drummer Steve Roberts, this trio is best described as The Aristocrats' garage jam session pushed to Dream Theater production parameters. James Loughrey, known for his work with acts such as Skindred and Def Leppard was brought on board to assist in producing and paving the stepping stone for the band's next sound. As it is understandably difficult to be noticed in the modern music industry, influences such as Devin Townsend and Mastodon on this LP will certainly beckon the fans of hard and prog rock to lend an ear.
There is no holding back in the opener "Below the Belt" as a slick bass groove clashes perfectly with a string of vocal melodies in the same manner of early Riverside. With a dependence shift towards the keys, "Ruin" flows at a thicker pace, but has an extraordinary ending that would sound even more compelling in a live environment. "Much Sinister" feels to be placed on the Porcupine Tree instrumentation spectrum mixed with nostalgia-inducing quintessential prog vocals. In terms of overall aesthetics, "Exit Stage Right" and "All That Remains" (no, not your favorite melodic metalcore group) are polar opposites with palm-muted riffage and acoustic ballad tendencies respectively.
"Hopeless Situation" relies on a more conventional pop melody during the chorus, a strong suit of this band, all while maintaining their heavy edge. Contrasting to the previous piece, "One Percent" is dependent on the typical sounds and styles of modern metal. Songs like the title track and "Leave or Be Left" continue an intensity achieved through a perfect balance of all three musicians. Not only do these compositions hold striking lead riffs, but the rhythm section backing up Darran Charles pushes the aural magnitude to enticing levels. I've always heavily favored releases that end on a strong note rather than fading out. And for the closer on this album, "Lack of Scrutiny" almost achieves my seal of approval. It takes a solid five minutes before reaching the epic guitar solo payoff.
In most cases of progressive rock history, bands tend to transition towards a more subtle, softer approach with time. But when analyzing Godsticks, the group has veered down the heavier path while respectfully staying true to their experimental and technical nature. Without the accommodation of a major record label, it is likely you have yet to hear of this group, but in the scenario of most hidden gems, their modest approach results in brilliance. Emergence is quite literally a perfect example of the expanding genre due to the hard rock song structure that frames together the progressive melodies and atmosphere. In reflection, it appears impossible to parallel Godsticks to another group within the genre, as their music is the result of a melting pot rather than a direct influence, which is the exact reason of my approval and praise of this album's direction.