Sound — 9
In my review of Gone Is Gone's debut self-titled EP, one could say I was not so overly enthused by the effort. While I did draw some comparisons to the bands each member has come from, I felt that it was a case of growing pains, and at the time, that the band felt like "less than the sum of its parts."
The group, consisting of Mastodon's vocalist and bassist Troy Sanders, Queens Of The Stone Age guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, At The Drive-In drummer Tony Hajjar, and composer/multi-instrumentalist Mike Zarin handling keyboards and guitars, is a quartet of some seriously amazing and well-respected musicians, and one could say that each member's respective band could be considered one of the best in the rock genre. It's no surprise here, then, that after some more sessions, the band was bound to come out with something absolutely great. One of the bigger criticisms I had of the debut EP was that some of the slower songs tended to feel a little like they dragged on a bit, and I feel like on this album, the band traded some of that sludginess for a more ethereal, melodic sound.
Straight from the opening, "Sentient," you can hear the album's more psychedelic, almost progressive overtones, with its swelling keyboard sounds, ambient lead guitars and eerie clean vocals (some of Sanders' best in his career, in my opinion) giving way to a heavy cascade of distorted guitar sounds, but a much cleaner-produced sound than their EP, echoing tunes like "Starlight" more than "Violescent." Contrasting this opening, a direct segue into rocker "Gift" provides us with a much more upbeat rhythm, and actually has one of the catchiest choruses I've ever heard from them, probably closest to the kind of music Van Leeuwen would play in QOTSA, as well as a pretty cool, noisy guitar solo. "Resurge" is a sludgy atmospheric rocker with an almost drunken shuffle rhythm to it, and some nice low clean vocals from Sanders. The groove on this tune is rather hypnotizing. "Dublin" is a much trippier track, with bare-bones drumming (possibly a drum machine) and more of the swelling keys of the opening track and buzzing dissonant single-note passages on the guitar with some very sweet and low-key vocals from Sanders.
By this point in the album, it's pretty clear that we're dealing with a very diverse band, and it's amazing how this band is finally starting to sound this excellent already. "Ornament" displays that diversity quite well, with its epic, psychedelic vibe and powerful vocals. There's also something to be said for the lack of egotism that's normally displayed in these types of supergroups, where you get a few famous musicians together and they often seem to be all about which one can shred the fastest (here's looking at you, every single one of Mike Portnoy's side projects), while Gone Is Gone seems to revel in just making things work well together. A lot of supergroups would make a heavier track like "Pawns" sound more like one band members' particular work, and while there are maybe some late-era Mastodon parallels in the vocals, it still sounds very much like a group effort. And I think this is what I meant in the debut EP's review about the band not quite sounding like the sum of its parts, as there were still moments where I could think "this definitely would have been written for Mastodon, and this was a QOTSA riff," and this album just feels like some of the initial awkwardness of working together has worn off, and paid off in a huge way.
That being said about egotism, there are some cool guitar solo bits which were much rarer on the debut EP, and some trickier guitar riffs here and there. Still, much of the album takes the form of vast expanses of psychedelia and ambient rock, such as on following track "Colourfade," a track with another hypnotic bass line and tripped-out guitar lines, and probably one of the best songs on the LP. "Roads," a cover of the classic from Portishead's "Dummy" album, takes a turn into some throbbing electronc bass and strange ambient noises, most likely a showcase for Mike Zarin's skills as a "trailer music" composer (as in, movie trailers). Its arrangement is sparse, much like the original, with very little action for the guitars or bass, but it's a piece sure to give just about any listener goosebumps. The cover actually manages to remain quite faithful to the original, while still showing Gone Is Gone's signature style quite well. Following this is a sort of duology, "Slow Awakening" and "Fast Awakening," the first part being an epic, psychedelic rocker with a great vocal melody that would not have sounded out of place in the '70s on an album something like King Crimson's "Red," with the second part taking a noisier, more punk-rock approach to the same melody. It sounds like nothing else out there right now, and these two tracks are almost kind of a centerpiece for the album.
The last two tracks, "Resolve" and the title track, are different beasts, and close out the album in a pretty much perfect way. The former is a truly beautiful acoustic-led ballad, almost reminiscent of some of Devin Townsend's softer fare, with huge reverb-drenched spacy chords and intense vocal layering unlike anything we've ever heard from Sanders. "Echolocation" takes on a bit more of an epic rock vibe, closing the album on a very deep and prog-rock influenced vibe, slowing down in the middle for probably one of the most epic-sounding guitar solo sections on the album. It's definitely not shredding, but there's some really nice tricks on the guitar that'll keep some of you transcribers busy for a little while.
The production and mixing is about the only weak point on the album, with a lot of the reverb-drenched ambient sounds being pushed over the mix to the point of clipping. There's very little dynamic range to speak of on the album as a whole, and through the very decent headphones I got for Christmas, I found the album as a whole to be quite fatiguing to listen to on certain equipment. Even so, it's a pretty small gripe for what's otherwise turned out to be a great album.
Lyrics — 9
Much like on the debut EP, a lot of the lyrics on this album are sort of poetic, cryptic, almost deep lyrics, many of which are depressive in nature. There are very few rays of hope and sunshine on this album, in keeping with the sort of dark musical themes on play within this record. None of the tracks in particular seem to be "about" anything, though it's said that "Dublin" was a particularly personal track for vocalist/bassist Troy Sanders, which makes a lyric like this, which would otherwise be kind of drab and repetitive, stand out a little bit more: "All is seen in silence/All the truths were lies/Bending words misguide you/I vow to make it right/And you lost yourself/And you found your way/And then you went and lost yourself again." While the lyrics aren't completely remarkable on their own, taken as just words, they do the job of setting up the ambiance of the album quite well, making the listener feel the intended emotion, or rather the point that the lyrics are trying to make. "Resolve," a particularly Devin Townsend-esque ballad, contains the kind of stream-of-consciousness lyricism one would expect of Devy, and in a way almost seems to be an homage to the man's style: "Day light take me/No control/No control/Wind blows/We go/Shadows/Sitting with you day into the night long/Silence makes the moment hold its time gone."
Vocally, Troy Sanders has done a wonderful job as well, with his distinctive singing voice that would be more immediately recognizable in Mastodon shining through on some of the band's heavier moments, but he also displays a tenderness and fragility here that is often missing from his primary band's repertoire. From bassy low notes to shimmering high harmony vocals, he displays an impressive range and an unexpectedly soft timbre on this record, and I had not expected this kind of vocal versatility from him.
Overall Impression — 9
Ambient rock, psychedelic rock, progressive rock... whatever you want to call it, Gone Is Gone has done a wonderful job on this record. They seem to have found their stride with this work, and it's interesting that they've barely had to change much. Just slightly honing the already pretty decent facets of their sound to something that works a bit more as a group effort rather than just a hodgepodge of disparate parts. And it's brilliant! With Mastodon's new album forthcoming, rumours of a new QOTSA album on the horizon, and an ATDI reunion, the band's members have a lot on their plate this year, meaning it's a bit of a surprise that they managed to pull off such a well-executed album, especially in such a short time since their formation and the release of their debut album last July. If the band were to tone down the mix on the ambient moments to let some of the softer, more delicate parts of the record like the acoustic work on "Resolve" breathe a little better, we'd have a strong contender for a potential album of the year, in my opinion, even though we're barely two weeks into 2017.
I highly recommend checking this album out, especially if you're into any of the bands the members of this group are from, but even if you're not a big fan of Mastodon, At The Drive-In or Queens Of The Stone Age, this album isn't so close to any one of those bands that it sounds too obvious. Somehow, this band has managed to mix different qualities of each of their bands in such a unique way to create a true "supergroup," not just in the sense that it's a bunch of people from different bands coming together, but I can finally say that this band's sound is more than the sum of its parts. It's an album that's worth listening to simply on its own accord, which is rare for a supergroup.