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Album Review: GODSTICKS Inescapable

Posted by on February 12, 2020 at 9:45 am

Having now released five studio albums within approximately ten years, South Wales quartet Godsticks is certainly among the most electrifying, idiosyncratic, and prolific bands on the hugely celebrated Kscope roster. Led by guitarist/singer/keyboardist Darran Charles, their fusion of progressive, heavy, and alternative rock/metal stylings typically yields gruff yet compelling chaos mixed with flashes of serene respite and hooky emotion. Fortunately, they’ve also gotten better at mixing those elements as they’ve developed, and Inescapable keeps that trajectory going. The follow-up to 2017’s Faced with Rage, the LP is still packed with grippingly grimy riffs and rhythms, but there’s also a surprising amount of accessibly melodic richness and soft structures as well. Therefore, it's likely their most evenly balanced, self-assured, and widely pleasing disc to date.

Inescapable once again sees Charles joined by bassist Dan Nelson, guitarist Gavin Bushnell, and drummer Tom Price. In comparing it to its immediate predecessors, they aptly state that while 2015’s Emergence prioritized “technically astounding metal” and Faced with Rage was “more industrial and progressive-influenced,” this one values “melody, phrasing and vocal performance” most. Thematically, it’s “more open” and “more personal” in its exploration of Charles’ “struggle with inner demons which gave the songs a new level of intimacy.” He clarifies that he wanted to be clearer and blunter lyrically, mincing few words in discussing how his artistic perfectionism could become a “huge heavy weight” on his mental health. The result is a relatively cathartic and welcoming collection of autobiographical songs.

Fans of their grungier edge and towering singing will undoubtedly be pleased with several pieces. For instance, starter “Denigrate”—which employs TesseracT frontman Daniel Tompkins for backing support—kicks off with razor-sharp guitar work alongside scruffy bass and percussive accentuations. These elements permeate the whole track as Charles belts out introspective sentiments that, according to him, serve as “a sort of analysis of [his] ongoing battle with . . . the general feeling that nothing you do ever meets the impossibly high standards you set for yourself.” Add to the mix the guttural six-string assaults of later-day Porcupine Tree and the moving psychedelic touches of labelmate The Pineapple Thief and you have a wide-ranging but accustomed Godsticks gem.

Elsewhere, “Relief” is quite driven and metallic—if also a tad repetitive and cold—with Charles’ trademark rebellious cynicism coming through with lyrics such as “Fuck those words of relief / You ain’t got nothing on me” and “Fuck you and your beliefs / If I cut you, would you bleed?” Honestly, Price might steal the show with his subtly clever change-ups. A bit later, “Change” is a peak exercise in wise structural disparity since its bursts of soaring tranquil songwriting are periodically countered by an influx of hyperactively rough difficulty. More or less, the same can be said about ender “Time,” which is simultaneously one of the album’s most poignantly harmonious and complexly unruly passages. Even at its harshest moments, Inescapable demonstrates a breadth of tuneful comfort and arresting passion rarely achieved by Godsticks before.

On the note, the record is almost entirely warm, vulnerable, and inviting at times, too. For instance, “Victim” channels '90s icons like Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains in its ascending rustic vocals, muted guitar chords, and moderately mellow vibe. Halfway in, “Resist” finds Charles’ layering his voice for maximum sing-along appeal before “Numb” and “Surrender” present surprising levels of delicate and spacious reflection. The utmost example of that penchant, however, is the penultimate “Breathe,” a heartrending ballad full of luscious instrumentation and beaming vocal harmonies. It’s undeniably one of their gentlest and most affective pieces ever, and it further solidifies the LP as a rewardingly striving, multifaceted, and earnest feat.

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Given its steady composure, openness, and graceful diversity, Inescapable is almost inarguably Godsticks’ best effort thus far. Everything that’s made their prior outings so characteristic and enjoyable is still here, yet it all feels more distinguished and deliberate. Plus, their ever-increasing ability to branch out into brighter territories—coupled with Charles’ growth as a songwriter and singer—makes it immensely well-rounded, polished, and relatable. If they retain that route going forward, there’s no telling how captivating their sixth sequence will be. Nevertheless, Inescapable will be damn hard to top.

SCORE: 8.5/10

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