I first happened upon Godsticks when they released The Envisage Conundrum, their second album, back in 2013. TEC grabbed me as a collection of well-defined songs with stellar musicianship to bolster them – a mature quality already existent in their studio-length debut, Spiral Vendetta, that had only increased in their sophomore release. Emergence, Godsticks’ third studio album, continues in this trend. Refined, intentional, and precise, these 10 tracks are indicative of the band’s collective ingenuity and their ability to work as a cohesive unit. Released 4 September, the album follows on the heels of a European tour supporting The Aristocrats (Guthrie Govan), and is a significant exploration into the band’s deepening trend toward grunge and metal.
Their bio lists them as an alternative rock band. Their website emphasizes the progressive elements of their music. Ultimately, Godsticks are a metal band with some unusual and striking songwriting. For a trio, they also make an impressive amount of noise. Darran Charles’ huge, double-tracked guitars and multilayered parts couple with Dan Nelson’s undergirding bass and Steve Roberts’ precise work on the kit, altogether fleshing out the enormous and unmistakeable sound that is Godsticks.
Emergence launches into high gear with “Below the Belt,” a dark tune that moves through several meter changes and sharp, rhythmic hits. Charles showcases his abilities on the guitar – both in the complexity of the core riffs he employs (while singing!), as well as in a furious solo toward the song’s conclusion. “Ruin” – the next tune and my favorite overall – contends for heaviest composition on Emergence. Nelson inserts brief bass leads into holes in the mix and syncs closely to Roberts.
“Much Sinister” is a plodding, anthemic track, with little additives that enhance the final product: keys, overdubbed guitar leads, and multiple vocal parts. “Exit Stage Right” is another grinding fist-pumper in dirty 4/4. I agonize over the central chord progression, because I hear added wah effect in my head, but there isn’t actually any in the mix. The song features nice vocal work as well as some synth inserts that nicely compliment Nelson’s upper-register bassline. Charles also inserts another solo (with the wah I wanted earlier!) over this gentler texture.
After the opening four tracks, “All That Remains” is Emergence’s only real moment of respite: a lilting acoustic-guitar-based ballad with some guitar lead and additional string parts. This stripped instrumentation works well for Godstick’s trio format, and also demonstrates Darran Charles’ versatile musicality. “Hopeless Situation” kicks back into high gear, channeling a bit of Tool or Votum as it oscillates between uptempo romp and halftime groove.
“One Percent’s” opening lead moves against dubbed guitars and restless bass before the huge, double-tracked riff of the verses dominates the mix. Charles’ lyrics are sharp thematically and rhythmically, synchronizing with the intense pentatonic progression. The song sinks into a false lull at the 5:30-minute mark before breaking into a harsh, instrumental outro.
The album’s title track is a spacious and dark 6:00+ minute tune – something partway between System of a Down and Porcupine Tree. There are a number of overdubbed guitar parts as well as a blistering guitar solo and some carefully orchestrated vocal harmony. I’d say “Emergence” was the album’s peak, but even the lattermost pair of tracks remaining on the backside continue to escalate. Just over a minute long, “Leave or Be Left” is an odd-metered transitional track between “Emergence” and the album’s final composition, “Lack of Scrutiny.” Restless and engaging, the 7:00-minute “Scrutiny” adorns Emergence as a strong, multi-textured conclusion. This one channels a bit of Liquid Tension-era John Petrucci and juggles several themes across its ambitious length.
For me, Emergence demonstrates a couple of things. One, that Darran Charles is a veritable wellspring of unique guitar riffs. None of these songs sound even remotely similar, nor does Emergence repeat ideas from The Envisage Conundrum or Spiral Vendetta. Two, as far as Godsticks are concerned, melodic components don’t need to be sacrificed for the sake of complexity or crunch: Charles’ singing is hook-oriented and memorable, but still appropriately ragged, and he somehow balances the responsibilities of lead singer and lead guitarist, dividing and subdividing his brain to manage both intense guitar work and intelligent lyrics.
My initial reaction to this album was that it was less progressive than TEC and Spiral Vendetta. But after subsequent listens, instead of finding things to nitpick, I’ve instead realized that the prog isn’t gone at all – it’s just packaged more carefully, layered unobtrusively into the songwriting. Technicality and nuance all reside within this collection – as with its predecessors – while still allowing the ragged, groove-oriented trio mentality to shine. Emergence is a polished release with no attention to detail spared, showcasing more of the quality music that Godsticks are dedicated to writing.