When I covered the Corrosion of Conformity show at the Rickshaw on June 13, I wasn’t sure which band would end up being my highlight for the night. I wasn’t all that familiar with any of the artists, but I’d heard good things about most of them – the Corrosion guys were a stoner-rock staple who had earned their stripes over the years; Black Cobra was impressive as a band, in and of itself, because of the heaviness the twosome could create; some new friends I was at the show with were pretty stoked for Torche, about whom I’d heard some buzz; I hadn’t heard a thing about the night’s openers – Gaza.
I walked out of the Rickshaw a Gaza fan. I bought the t-shirt (that makes it official, yeah?). Scenes from their set are still vivid in my mind – frontman Jon Parkin talking about the taste of the cleaner on the mic being the same as the one used to clean the bathroom (heh, still makes me chuckle), but especially his standing on stage sideways (due to spatial constraints), spread out and bellowing, “There ain’t no future in this!” God damn. He wasn’t talking about his band, that’s for sure.
Gaza will release its third full-length No Absolutes In Human Suffering on August 28 via Black Market Activities. If you’re still looking for the standout metal album of the year, give this a listen. You might stop looking.
The short blast that is “Mostly Hair and Bones Now” (2:35) begins with discordant ringing strings and quickly shifts into full-on assault mode. The violent guitars and drums, combined with Parkin’s unbridled vocals, welcome you to No Absolutes with a wicked punch to the ear. The frantic pace continues with “This We Celebrate” as your head gets pounded repeatedly. Oh, the song gives you a few seconds here and there to shake it off and gather your senses, but only for the purpose of promptly knocking you out again. This track ends with what could be considered somewhat of a post-metal (albeit stripped down, as in less spacey/atmospheric) mini-dirge, waves of guitar lapping against you as you try to figure out why you’re floating on your back in this fetid body of…water?
This tease of a break is rudely interrupted by the even shorter blast that is “The Truth Weighs Nothing” (1:43), which shatters the forlorn calm of the previous song’s end like a cluster bomb thrown at a funeral. This track is the album’s rabid dog whose balls have been electro-shocked to make him that much nastier – it grabs you by the neck, punctures your pink skin with its fangs, and shakes your weak little ragdoll of a body, finally letting you drop once your neck snaps at the last “Wake the fuck up!”
As “Not With All the Hope in the World” begins and I assume the chaotic pace will continue, I start to think, “This might be too much for me…”, that is until the rhythm grinds down and slows to a doomy, heavy, demented stride. The repetition lulls you in, but the feedback squeals intrude and pierce through to your core as if to remind you “It’s not going to be that easy, fella… no relaxing now…”. As you open your eyes, you look up only to see thousands of tons of thick sludge filled with chunks of concrete, barbed wire and scrap metal over you as Parkin warns of the oncoming destruction.
The violent schizophrenia of No Absolutes rears its ugly head again with “The Vipers” as you’re forced to get up and run for your life once more, pushed on by thrashy drumming and crusty guitars. If you weren’t sure what the vipers can do to you, Parkin chimes in helpfully – “They can tear at the flesh / They can blacken tissue / They can bleed you / But they can’t break the bone”.
As “The Vipers” slither away, leaving you decimated and choking on bits of yourself, our dear narrator cannot help but remind you that there truly are “No Absolutes In Human Suffering”. This anti-national anthem is one of the darkest, moodiest, most upsetting pieces of music I’ve heard in ages. I love it. I am being 100% honest when I say that I have difficulty listening to this track without my heartbeat accelerating and feeling some acute, twisted, seemingly source-less emotional response (collective human guilt, maybe?). And it keeps going. The vocals become more guttural and animal-like… an apt thing, as you ponder the nigh-unfathomable misery man has wrought upon himself and his neighbour throughout his short existence. This nihilistic mantra is what plays as those left injured yet still alive are gathered and tossed into the pit, doused with gasoline and burned.
But even as the smoke billows up and fills the sky and you think you might sneak in a moment’s rest, the assault rolls on and on as Parkin’s roaring attack spurs you forward, backed by thunderous, rolling drums and fuzzy-yet-razor-like guitars. “When They Beg” lets you leave the earthly despair down there somewhere for a while with a beautiful and cruelly short ethereal passage.
When “Winter in Her Blood” throws a cinderblock at you in a mad rage, it isn’t so much about surprise anymore. Now it’s about pushing the limits and seeing how long you can survive, dazed yet struggling to remain attentive as Gaza somehow manage to remain inventive and pleasantly unpredictable. “We’re not the first and we won’t be the last,” he assures us, as this tune ends like a drunken, crushing mammoth. The nightmarish feel of “Skull Trophy” pushes things further once more, alternating between twisted, ringing progressions of single notes and thick, gritty riffing.
The merciful end to the madness comes with “Routine and Then Death”, another highlight. It slams the door to your cell repeatedly like a prison guard who knows you’re shell-shocked but just wants to mess with you until, inevitably, you lose it for good. Seriously – play it, shut your eyes, and imagine that. “It’s the same noise / Every day / We walk / Back and forth / Back and forth / Back and forth.” Can this be it? Soothing notes announce that yes, this is when the torture ends and your soul is finally set free from its tortured shackles of flesh and allowed to ascend… or descend… to a place not of this earth. It is the sound of solace found in the end of suffering.
Gaza. No Absolutes In Human Suffering. It comes out August 28. Pick it up.